With court case resolved, Fiberight forging ahead with plant plans

ELLSWORTH — Now that a court appeal has been resolved, Fiberight, LLC is firming up plans with investors to move ahead with construction of a $69-million solid waste-to-biogas plant in Hampden.

The plant will service 115 members of the 187-member Municipal Review Committee that have agreed by March 2018 to have their solid waste processed by Fiberight.

The challenge to state environmental permits issued for the Fiberight project was brought by the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. (PERC) in Orrington, which currently handles solid waste for all of MRC’s 187 members.

“Fundamentally, it was the court’s impression from the beginning that it (appeal) was a delaying tactic by PERC,” said Fiberight owner Craig Stuart-Paul. “We have a good project. The judge agreed we acted lawfully.”

“The other thing we were pleased with was that the judge found for us on every single claim,” he said.

Judge Michaela Murphy of the Business and Consumer Court in Portland ruled March 15 that there was no basis to deny Department of Environmental Protection permits issued for the Fiberight plant.

Those permits covered air emissions, solid waste processing, storm water management and compliance with the Natural Resources Protection Act.

“Despite the belief that we would prevail, the decision provides relief and additional assurances for our project,” said Greg Lounder, executive director of the MRC. “The court’s decision is comprehensive and ruled on each of the points that were brought up by the opponents.”

Lounder said the judge’s ruling puts to rest any doubts about the technology Fiberight will use as well as its ability to finance, build and operate the plant.

The MRC leadership signed on with Fiberight in anticipation of the expiration of higher-than-market rates now paid for the electricity the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. generates by burning the trash.

MRC said PERC would be forced to increase its per-tonnage fee and that Fiberight with its new technology offered competitive and more sustainable pricing.

Bob Knudsen, vice president of PERC’s majority owner, USA Energy Group, LLC in Minneapolis, said the company stands behind its claims that there were serious deficiencies in the Fiberight application and the way in which the Department of Environmental Protection applied applicable laws and regulations.

“We accept the court’s decision and do not intend to pursue this matter further,” Knudsen said. “In the meantime, PERC is continuing to make significant investments in its Orrington facility and to line up municipal and commercial customers in support of our post-2018 operating plan.”

Another decision Fiberight is awaiting is for $45 million in conduit bonds through the Finance Authority of Maine.

No one other than Fiberight would be liable for repaying the bonds, but it would enable the company to borrow without paying federal taxes.

The MRC is responsible for paying for utility and site work at the Fiberight plant.

Lounder of the MRC said the first phase of the project has been completed and includes a road leading into the site as well as a sewer line beneath the roadway.

The Fiberight plant will be located in an area between Ammo Industrial Park, Interstate 95 and Coldbrook Road.

Craig Stuart-Paul said among the investors in Fiberight are Covanta, an international waste management company.

Jacqueline Weaver

Jacqueline Weaver

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Jacqueline's beat covers the eastern Hancock County towns of Lamoine through Gouldsboro as well as Steuben in Washington County. She was a reporter for the New York Times, United Press International and Reuters before moving to Maine. She also publicized medical research at Yale School of Medicine and scientific findings at Yale University for nine years.[email protected]