DOVER-FOXCROFT — Forty-five towns will share in nearly $100,000 in penalties this year for failing to produce and ship their contracted solid waste amounts to Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. in Orrington.
The penalties range from $14,255 in Waterville to $6,961 for Brewer, $941 for Piscataquis County (Unorganized Territory) and $21 for Maxfield, a small community near Howland.
The communities that haul their municipal solid waste to PERC have contracts that specify the
amount of tonnage the plant can expect each year. In 2009, 55 communities fell short of their tonnage amount, but PERC waived those fees, totaling $150,000, because of the poor economy, according to Peter Prata, PERC plant manager. Although Prata said the economy still hasn’t recovered as much as some believe, the penalties will not be waived this year, he said this week.
“We forgave for last year so they would have a year to see what’s going on in their waste shed. This year we didn’t do that,” Prata said. The reprieve last year allowed the towns ample time to adjust their tonnage rates, he said. When PERC is short of its waste tonnage, it means it has less waste to burn as fuel to generate electricity, he said.
PERC, a private-public partnership, is owned 77 percent by John Noer and Kevin Nordby, both of Minneapolis, Minn., and 23 percent by 86 original member towns and cities in Maine that formed Municipal Review Committee Inc. before October 1998. Several other communities, including the Unorganized Territory of Piscataquis County and Maxfield, have joined PERC since then.
“We’ve experienced a fairly sharp downturn in the last several years,” Greg Lounder of Municipal Review Committee Inc. said recently. “We’ve experienced a fairly steep decline in 2008, 2009 and 2010 of several percentage points a year, and I do expect that decline to level off, but in the long term I would still expect the total amount of waste generated to continue to gradually decline over time.”
As partners in PERC, the 86 charter members share in the economic upside that results from the facility operating at capacity and the pinch when it is not, Lounder said recently. “For those communities, it’s not in our interest to see the facility operated in a diminished capacity either,” he said. The towns are not only penalized, but they also receive less in profit sharing if the tonnage is not at capacity.
“It’s impossible to pinpoint all the reasons for a downward trend in deliveries we’ve experienced in the last few years, but for the most part I do think the down economy is a majority of the explanation,” Lounder said.
Durlin Lunt, town manager of charter member Mount Desert, said his town is looking into the tonnage rate and will move to reduce the guaranteed amount. Mount Desert was penalized $2,787. Lunt said he believes because of the economy residents as well as visitors are continuing to buy fewer disposable items, which reduces the waste stream. ”People might be holding on to things, making them last longer,” he said.
The waste shortfall from Piscataquis County (Unorganized Territory) is because a contractor was hired to oversee the transfer station operation and has limited its use to those residents whom it should serve and not people from surrounding communities, County Clerk Marilyn Tourtelotte said Thursday. In addition, she said the new recycling program has helped reduce waste. As such, Tourtelotte said the county has applied to PERC for a future reduction in tonnage.
The tonnage delivered to PERC by the municipalities in 2010 was 1,709 tons short of the guaranteed amount, according to Lounder.
The fact that some towns exceeded their tonnage last year helped to bridge some of the overall tonnage gap, which lessened the total penalty, Lounder said. Had there been no pooling provision in the contract, the aggregate penalties would have been more than $600,000, he said.
“I think it is a challenge from year to year to gauge precisely how much waste may or may not be generated in a given year. It’s not easy and I think for the most part, the communities through the years have done a good job,” Lounder said. “That’s not to say there’s no room for adjustment or improvement.”
Since he believes the downward trend in waste generation is here to stay, Lounder said it was in the collective interest of Maine communities to plan for a future with less waste.