By Jim Vallette
In 2019, our town leaders placed their faith (and control of our waste) in the Municipal Review Committee. All of a sudden, in July 2019, bins for paper and glass and cans disappeared from the transfer station in Southwest Harbor. We were promised that single bin collection was going to make recycling more efficient, once a processing plant opened in Hampden. The $70 million operation lasted for less than seven months, from November 2019 to May 2020.
Because of this boondoggle, in Southwest Harbor and other towns, there has been no recycling – zero – for 22 of the last 29 months. Instead, our waste is going to landfills and incinerators.
Town councils and select boards on Mount Desert Island and elsewhere in Maine are considering who should serve on the Municipal Review Committee’s board from 2022 to 2025. I am a candidate for the board, nominated by the Select Board of Southwest Harbor. I am calling for a fundamental change in our communities’ relationships with the MRC.
If elected, I will advance the common interest of MRC members in recycling waste and saving money. Rather than paying MRC to mismanage MDI’s wastes, we can save money by separating our recyclables and working together to minimize collection costs and maximize revenue.
MRC’s biggest asset is the waste of its 115 member towns, cities and disposal districts. Joinders require members to pay MRC for more than 150,000 tons per year, combined, whether or not the waste is recycled. The MRC holds all the power in this relationship, through a Master Waste Supply Agreement. Somehow, our towns agreed that only the MRC can terminate this contract.
In January, the MRC announced that an obscure company called Delta Thermo Energy (DTE) was chosen to take over the shuttered waste processing center in Hampden. I quickly found serious issues. I asked MRC’s leaders whether they knew that DTE was unable to obtain financing in prior projects, that towns up and down the East Coast had rejected its proposals. DTE was inflating its resume, listing advisors and projects with no connection to the company. Despite these questions and reports, MRC repeated its confidence in DTE’s expertise and finances.
MRC’s leadership doubled down in May. Its executive director, consultant and board members met with councils and boards, and convinced them to extend the waste agreement from 2033 to 2038. (Only Bar Harbor’s town council voted against this, and did so unanimously.) MRC secured five more years of our towns’ waste as collateral. Infants today will be graduating from high school before this agreement expires. And still, DTE could not obtain financing for Hampden. In August, the MRC announced that it was reopening bidding. There is no opening in sight for the plant, no hope in sight for recycling.
MRC’s magical thinking, that the plant in Hampden will spring back to life someday soon, is keeping us in kind of a waste management purgatory. If elected to MRC’s board, I will help its members escape.
Jim Vallette is vice-chair of the Warrant Committee in Southwest Harbor, president of Material Research L3C, and a long-time investigator of waste, toxic chemicals and climate pollution. Last month, Beyond Plastics of Bennington College published his research in the study, The New Coal: Plastics & Climate.