By Chip Reeves
When the Municipal Review Committee was formed in 1991, its mission was clear: to seek out affordable and environmentally sound ways for Maine communities to dispose of their solid waste for the long term. That same mission remains clear today. Our goal as a nonprofit representing 115 cities and towns in Maine is to help solve regional waste disposal problems in a responsible, environmentally conscious way.
For more than 25 years, the MRC partnered with Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. (PERC) to convert solid waste into energy by incinerating it. Knowing that the PERC contract would expire in 2018 along with PERC’s lucrative power-purchase agreement with Emera Maine, the MRC undertook a significant, in-depth evaluation of new waste disposal technologies to ensure we provided the best long-term solution to the communities we were created to serve.
Working with our organization, member cities and towns opted to dispose of solid waste with a next-generation recycling and solid waste processing facility that will transform how we view, process and use waste.
The Fiberight facility in Hampden will convert organic waste into high-value products and recover more recyclable materials to cleaner specification than traditional sorting facilities. Flexibility in its mix of products means that the Fiberight facility will be able to adapt to changing market conditions, providing it with added financial stability and opportunity for future growth. This transition to higher recycling and utilization of waste will provide this region affordable, sustainable and environmentally sound waste processing for the long term.
Although the opening of the plant is not on schedule, the MRC anticipated this and made contingency plans. The contracts that cities and towns signed included a cost-effective backup that allows for waste to be disposed of at Crossroads Landfill in Norridgewock. This was always intended to be a temporary solution to a problem we hoped would never arise.
To meet state regulatory requirements, secure a $70-million investment in the Hampden facility and obtain the necessary permits, we needed a realistic backup plan. PERC did not present itself as a sustainable option, and we were able to reach a financially reasonable agreement with Crossroads.
With contingency plans in place, the MRC and its members committed to a new, forward-thinking future knowing that any setbacks would be temporary and worth it for the larger gain of long-term, affordable, environmentally sound solid waste disposal.
And there is good news on the horizon.
Construction progress on the facility continues. Following concrete placement, which will start next week, the mechanical and electrical work begins, and the front-end processing equipment arrives for installation. Soon with this system in place our members can expect that the metal, plastic and other material of value left in household trash will be recycled, too.
We’re excited about the prospects of this facility. Not only will the Hampden plant be a key part of our region’s system for maximum recycling and minimum landfilling on a long-term sustainable basis, we will lead the nation with this forward-thinking technology and serve as a model for others to follow. We are looking forward to that day.
Changing how communities dispose of trash is taking time, but the recycling and processing solution we came together to implement is happening, and we will all benefit from it within months. When that happens, we will have forged a better path not only for ourselves and the waste we generate, but also for other communities struggling with similar challenges.
Let’s continue to work together because the solution is finally within sight.
Chip Reeves is the president of the Municipal Review Committee’s Board of Directors. He is Bar Harbor’s public works director. To stay current on recycling and waste disposal solutions, follow the Municipal Review Committee on Facebook and Twitter, and get updates online at mrcmaine.org.