ELLSWORTH — The Municipal Review Committee (MRC) hopes to have a buyer in place for the Coastal Resources of Maine plant in Hampden by “mid-October to the first of November,” said MRC Executive Director Mike Carroll at a virtual town hall meeting on Aug. 19, and at least have a “start towards the reopening.”
Board members for the committee, which represents 115 member towns, said on Wednesday morning that detailed questionnaires had been sent to seven prospective investors. The questionnaires are due to be returned by Aug. 28, although some could come in as early as this week.
“It’s not just the desire of the board to follow a quick schedule,” said board member Karen Fussell, addressing potential investors who were on the call on Wednesday.
“There are members who are feeling dissatisfied because this was not what they had signed up for,” said Fussell.
“That patience will not go on indefinitely,” she added, and there’s a “hard and fast” deadline to have a plan in place for the plant by this fall.
The Coastal Resources plant, which is often known by “Fiberight,” the name of the technology it uses, was placed in receivership in late July by its bondholder trustees, meaning a company has been appointed by a court to oversee the operations. The plant has been shut down since late May due to financial issues.
While the plant is closed, 75 percent of waste from member towns is being sent to Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. (PERC) in Orrington, where it is burned for energy. The rest is diverted to Crossroads landfill in Norridgewock.
Board members noted on Wednesday that recycling contracts are separate from waste contracts. Governor Janet Mills eased enforcement of recycling rules during the pandemic to allow recyclable materials that are burned for energy to count toward the state’s goal of recycling 50 percent of its waste.
“To the extent possible we’re trying to comply with the hierarchy,” said Fussell, referring to the state’s waste management hierarchy, which places landfilling at the bottom and waste-to-energy just above that. Burning recycling is “not the kind of recycling that people might want,” said Fussell, “but it’s a good second-best, given the circumstances.”
Answering a question about whether Coastal Resources will be involved in the arrangement going forward, the MRC’s Technical Consultant George Aronson said that Coastal staff have “certain knowledge on technology and business history that is important,” but said that whether the company is involved will depend on the investor proposal. “We will be watching to make sure there are enough checks and balances,” said Aronson, “so that this time it can succeed.”
The plant has been cleaned of all waste and a skeleton crew are maintaining equipment. The staff answer to the court-appointed receiver, John Thibodeau of Windsor Associates in South Portland.
“A receiver or receivership is not a bankruptcy proceeding,” said the board’s legal counsel, Jon Pottle, who likened the receiver to a “caretaker.”
“It’s really a tool that creditors have available to them if they want to utilize that as part of a default on their loan,” said Pottle, “and that’s what’s happened here.”
Aronson said choosing a new investor “is not a simple case of someone coming forward with a hard number,” but that there will be conditions and detailed criteria for evaluating potential buyers.
“We will know in the near future if the plant is going to be reopened,” said Fussell. “I know we’ve been asking for people’s patience for many months now, but things are moving forward.”