ELLSWORTH — A temporary solution for waste disposal has been reached following the closure of a plant that processed trash and recycling for numerous Hancock County and eastern Maine communities.
The Municipal Review Committee announced in a virtual town hall Wednesday that the Coastal Resources of Maine site in Hampden had been cleared of all waste and prepared for a future restart. In the meantime, much of the existing and future waste will be diverted to the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. (PERC) in Orrington.
“After a couple of weeks of negotiation with PERC and Waste Management’s Crossroads facility, MRC has managed to come up with a temporary arrangement,” MRC Executive Director Mike Carroll said. “To ease the amount of bypass waste going to landfill, MRC will direct some of the members’ [waste] to PERC starting as of today, July 1, instead of Juniper Ridge Landfill during Coastal’s suspension of services.”
Coastal Resources of Maine, which has struggled to stay afloat financially and is facing a $1.2-million lawsuit from NAES Corp. over alleged unpaid expenses, shut its doors May 28 after failing to obtain a $14.7-million loan. Until last week, waste intended for the plant had been sent to two landfills, Crossroads in Norridgewock and Juniper Ridge in Old Town.
The Department of Environmental Protection, which ranks landfilling as the least desirable method of disposal, has previously expressed concerns over the removal of the waste. As a result, the MRC negotiated to have three-quarters of the waste generated by closure-affected towns go to PERC and the remainder will be sent to Crossroads.
As part of an existing agreement with the MRC, waste that Coastal Resources is unable to accept is supposed to be diverted to Waste Management’s facilities. Waste Management is instead allowing the MRC to redirect all but 25 percent of the waste to PERC.
“I can’t thank Waste Management enough for stepping up and allowing this short-term arrangement to happen,” Carroll said. “This is not something they had to allow and is actually a substantial revenue loss for them.”
The announcement means PERC will temporarily accept waste from 115 communities across eastern Maine. In Hancock County, those communities include Amherst, Aurora, Bar Harbor, Blue Hill, Bucksport, Castine, Cranberry Isles, Dedham, Franklin, Great Pond, Mariaville, Mount Desert, Osborn, Otis, Sorrento, Southwest Harbor, Sullivan, Surry, Swan’s Island and Waltham.
Given the Coastal plant’s financial struggles, questions have been raised as to what would happen if the facility is unable to operate in the long term. Although Sophie Wilson, an MRC board member, said the committee has discussed emergency backup options, she added that the MRC is fully committed to the plant being operational in the future.
“We are still almost 100 percent focused on the successful reopening of the plant,” Wilson said. “It requires an incredible amount of time and effort. … Nevertheless, we are having discussions as to what the alternative would be.”
A day before the Coastal plant closed, the MRC sent the plant a notice of default on its contract that included a 30-day cure period. Said default, which is ongoing until the breach of contract is remedied, began when the cure period expired June 26.
Despite the default, the MRC has elected not to terminate its master waste supply agreement with Coastal. Even though the facility’s shuttering constituted an unacceptable breach under the terms of the supply agreement, committee legal counsel Jon Pottle said, the contracts in place make reopening the facility a worthwhile endeavor.
“We don’t believe [terminating the agreement] makes sense while we’re undertaking these efforts and while there’s a reasonable prospect to reopen the facility,” Pottle said. “We’re going to continuously monitor those and evaluate and re-evaluate that, but that is the current posture.”
As to a potential new operator for the plant, MRC Technical Adviser George Aronson said the committee has received interest from “parties with very strategic interests in the waste industry.” Due to nondisclosure agreements, Aronson said, those parties have yet to be made public.
“We can imagine that, when the negotiations begin, there will be quite a lot of activity,” Aronson said. “We’re not in a position at this point to tell you where they’ll go or how long they’ll take, and those entities will need to go public at some point, but they’re not ready to do so at this point.”