June 20, 2018
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Bar Harbor, MDI disposal district seek to amend federal legislation to accommodate new transfer station

By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff

BAR HARBOR, Maine — The town and a municipal solid waste disposal district based on Mount Desert Island are trying to get Congress to change legislation that it adopted 26 years ago.

The legislation, part of a law that limits how much Acadia National Park can expand, includes language that requires the park to give a 50-acre parcel of land in the Town Hill section of Bar Harbor for use as a regional transfer station. Along with the parcel of land, Congress promised to contribute $350,000 or 50 percent of the construction costs toward the project, whichever is less expensive.

Nearly 30 years later, the park still owns the property, and nothing has been built on it. The town of Bar Harbor and residents of Town Hill village now are opposed to having a transfer station on the property, which is off Crooked Road. The Acadia Disposal District — which consists of the towns of Cranberry Isles, Frenchboro, Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor, Tremont and Trenton — is exploring other options for a transfer station while the clock runs out on a contract it has to haul its waste to Eastern Maine Recycling, a privately owned facility in Southwest Harbor.

But Bar Harbor still is interested in acquiring the property from the park, and the district still is interested in getting the promised financial assistance from the federal government for a new transfer station that it would build somewhere else. That’s why the town and the district have signed a memorandum of understanding with each other to support each other’s efforts to make these goals happen.

The Bar Harbor Town Council met Tuesday night in executive session to discuss the issue and then voted 6-0 to approve the memorandum of understanding with the district. Councilor Christopher Walsh abstained from the vote and Councilor Paul Paradis was not present.

Tony Smith, public works director for the town of Mount Desert and chairman of the disposal district, said Thursday that the clause about the Town Hill property in the 1986 federal park boundary law was included to give MDI towns a future option for building an islandwide transfer station. Bar Harbor currently has its own transfer station, off Ledgelawn Avenue in the downtown village, and the other MDI towns have been content with using EMR in Southwest Harbor, which the district even considered purchasing at one point. For the past 26 years, there has been no urgent need to build a new transfer station on MDI, he said.

But the district’s contract with EMR is scheduled to run out less than two years from now, Smith said, and the district would like to have its own facility. Being a privately owned and operated entity, EMR operates to earn a profit, he said, and the nonprofit district could save money in the long run if it had its own site.

In 2006, a consultant for the district identified two sites in Trenton — one behind the IGA supermarket and another on the Hancock County-owned airport property — as potential transfer station locations, if the district could acquire or lease them, according to Smith. Wherever the district may decide to build a transfer station, he said, the projected cost for designing and constructing the facility would probably be between $1.5 million and $2 million.

The $350,000 promised by Congress in 1986, which would be less expensive than the 50 percent-of-construction-costs alternative, definitely would help, Smith said.

“That would go a long way toward the concept phase of the project,” he said.

As for Bar Harbor, the town still would like to own the 50-acre parcel on Crooked Road, though it has no plans for how it might use it.

Dana Reed, Bar Harbor’s town manager, said Thursday that Town Hill’s residential population has grown substantially during the past 25 years, and it is possible another municipal function for the property might come to light. If not and if the park gives it to the town, he said, the town could decide to sell it, using the revenue to offset the community’s tax burden and getting the property back on the tax rolls for future years.

But the town won’t be able to do anything other than use it for a transfer station that it doesn’t want, he said, unless Congress agrees to change the law it passed in 1986.

“We would like to see that resolved,” Reed said.

Len Bobinchock, deputy superintendent of Acadia National Park, said Thursday that the park has been expecting to turn over the Crooked Road property to Bar Harbor for decades now and still is prepared to do so. The parcel does not abut any other park land, he said, and park officials would not object to any federal legislation that would remove the requirement that it be used as a transfer station.

“We have no plans for that property,” Bobinchock said.

Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.

Correction: An earlier version of this story contained inaccurate information. The Bar Harbor town council voted to approve a memorandum of understanding with the Acadia Disposal District with a unanimous 6-0 vote, not a 5-0-1 vote. Councilor Paul Paradis was absent.

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