By Jim Vallette
It’s time to disband the Municipal Review Committee, which is responsible for managing the waste for 115 Maine towns and cities, including the four towns on Mount Desert Island, along with Cranberry Isles, Frenchboro, Swans Island and Trenton.
Several years ago, MRC and town officials ignored warnings about Fiberight, the untested company it courted to develop a waste sorting and recycling facility in Hampden. Last year, shortly after starting operations, Fiberight defaulted on its loan and fled Maine. Now, MRC’s board is determined to make a deal with Delta Thermo Energy to take over the Fiberight plant.
DTE is a tiny company that has been rejected time and again by communities in the Northeast. Municipalities that have spurned DTE include Albany, N.Y., Paterson, N.J., Muncy, Pa., and many others. For over a decade, DTE owner Rob Van Naarden has been pitching to communities to let him build plants that would burn a mix of sludge and garbage.
The president of the Pennsylvania Waste Industries Association warned in 2013, “Delta Thermo made a number of materially false statements to the public regarding their proposed project and the waste disposal industry as a whole.” He said DTE used “false environmental marketing claims” and some were “intentionally misleading.”
For months I have been trying to understand what the company is doing today. I asked Michael Carroll, MRC’s executive director this straightforward question: What are DTE’s current operations? He said to ask Mr. Van Naarden. When I called and asked Mr. Van Naarden, he hung up on me. When I asked this question again by chat during an MRC board meeting this week, Mr. Van Naarden finally answered, “As far as current operations, we’ve run a DTE facility in South Jersey outside of Atlantic City and currently in North Central Pennsylvania, just outside of Williamsport, Pennsylvania. We own and operate them.”
This was news to at least one board member, Cathy Conlon. She said she was “a little confused by your answer earlier” and asked for clarification on what DTE is currently operating. Van Naarden said the New Jersey plant had to be disassembled after operating a few years, and that “currently we’re operating one in north central Pennsylvania, so at the very current moment there is only one operating, got it?” Pressed for further details, Mr. Van Naarden said the Pennsylvania “plant is nothing like the one in Hampden” and “there is no way to compare it.” Asked how many tons per year are handled there, he replied, “I can’t divulge that number.”
The only information I have seen regarding DTE in the Williamsport, Pa., area is a spurned attempt to build a sewage sludge/garbage incinerator in the neighboring town of Muncy.
Earlier this month, the Bangor Daily News reported that many of the people listed in Mr. Van Naarden’s presentations as technical advisers had no knowledge of their role. During MRC’s meeting this week, a viewer asked, “Is there any new information on the possible misrepresentation of some of DTE’s associations/partnerships?” MRC chairman Karen Fussell replied, “We have no comment. We don’t know what you are talking about.”
In 2018, member towns signed onto a Master Waste Agreement with MRC in 2018, before the Fiberight plant went online. Through joinders, members are required to pay for established amounts of waste to MRC. Only MRC has the authority to break this agreement, which currently runs through 2033. It plans to transfer this valuable contract to DTE but needs the member towns to sign off on an extension as part of the deal. MRC says it has to hand DTE control of our waste even longer, through 2036. We will be locked in unless towns take a stand, reject MRC’s request and call for a members’ meeting as allowed under the Master Waste Agreement.
Jim Vallette is vice-chairman of the Warrant Committee and a resident of Southwest Harbor.