ELLSWORTH — Bulldozers and other heavy equipment are busy clearing a 4,600-foot road leading to what will be the new Fiberight LLC trash-to-biogas plant in Hampden.
The 90-acre parcel is located between Ammo Industrial Park, Interstate 95 and Coldbrook Road in Hampden.
The land was purchased by the Municipal Review Committee (MRC) for the 105 of its 187 member towns and cities that have opted to leave their present solid waste plant at the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. (PERC) in Orrington.
The remaining communities decided either to remain with PERC or to use other solid waste disposal sites closer to them geographically.
The changeover from PERC to the new 144,000-square-foot Fiberight plant is scheduled to occur officially after March 31, 2018.
“Everything is on schedule for the project,” said Greg Lounder, executive director of the MRC. “Breaking ground this fall afforded a chance to keep the overall project schedule intact.”
The MRC Board voted Sept. 30 to use $1.6 million from PERC revenue of members that have signed onto the new plant to buy the land and pay for the initial road and infrastructure.
The overall road and utilities budget is estimated to be $4.8 million.
The cost of the plant itself — estimated to be about $55 million — will be borne by Fiberight and its investors.
The Fiberight plant is designed to process 125,000 tons of waste each year.
The MRC and PERC reached agreement in September about how members’ share of revenue will be allocated.
Full details of the agreement are confidential until the agreement is signed.
However, the MRC has said that PERC will pay members with an interest in the PERC plant $6 million in revenue from September until their contract with PERC expires in 2018.
“It delinks the current framework we have had all these years,” Lounder said. “They would now be free to carry on their business as they see fit.”
Still pending, however, is a legal challenge by PERC of the permits issued for the new plant by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Lounder said neither the MRC nor Fiberight is concerned about the PERC challenge to the state permits.
“We see the risk associated with the appeal as very minimal,” he said.
In the meantime, PERC said it is confident it will continue to operate post-2018.
“Knowing that some communities would leave to go with other options in 2018, PERC owners have been actively seeking out new commercial waste customers,” said Robert Knudsen, vice president of operations for USA Energy, which is the majority owner of PERC.
Knudsen said PERC will no longer have to hold the same year-round capacity for 187 municipalities, especially in the summer when solid waste volumes increase dramatically with seasonal residents and vacationers.
He said PERC is planning to operate at 200,000 tons of solid waste per year instead of the current 300,000 tons.
PERC “can now enter into fixed, long-term contracts with commercial waste haulers,” Knudsen said. “Between the municipalities that are staying with PERC and the commercial waste that is available, PERC owners are confident that they will have enough waste to operate efficiently and profitably.”
Craig Stuart-Paul, owner of the Maryland-based Fiberight, said he does not believe there is enough solid waste in the area to support two plants.
“If you go from Waterville north to Lincoln and east to the coast and west — there is not an awful lot there — that’s what we call the ‘waste shed,’” he said. “There is 150,000 tons of waste in this region.”
He said Fiberight has commitments for about 125,000 tons of solid waste from the “waste shed.”
The numbers change if a plant is importing solid waste from out of state, Stuart-Paul said.