MARION TOWNSHIP, Maine — Sometimes the oft-dreaded “unintended consequences” of a business deal can wind up being good ones.
That seems to be the 1+1=3 calculation behind the retrofit of the former Stinson Seafood cannery in the Hancock County community of Prospect Harbor. The ongoing project has sparked plans by Portland-based Coast of Maine Organic Products to invest $500,000 in expanding its 23-acre composting facility in Washington County’s Marion Township, which is located just south of the intersections of highways 191 and 86.
Last September the sardine processing plant in Prospect Harbor was bought at a foreclosure auction for $900,000. The new co-owners — Garbo Lobster, a Connecticut-based lobster distribution company, and East Coast Seafood, a Massachusetts-based global lobster distributor — are tooling up the equipment and recruiting the workforce required to meet their goal of processing 50,000 pounds of fresh lobsters six days a week.
That level of production will generate a small mountain of lobster shells, which rather than representing industrial waste, will wind being trucked to the Coast of Maine’s compost facility as raw materials for organic fertilizers and compost-based soils. The facility now sources most of its lobster shells from lobster processing operations in New Brunswick and Midcoast Maine.
“We’re hoping to double the size of our composting operation,” Coast of Maine President Carlos Quijano told The Bangor Daily News. “We’ll be putting up a large, stick-built storage barn, which will provide our outdoor production process with more quality control by keeping composting materials under a roof.”
The company has made application to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to increase its annual volume of fish and shellfish residue from 3,000 to 15,000 cubic yards and wood waste compost materials such as sawdust and wood shavings from 2,000 to 15,000 cubic yards. The expansion plan includes construction of a new 1.5-acre finished product storage yard at an expected cost of $500,000.
“This expansion is largely driven by a very recent surge in lobster production,” Quijano said. “The new facility soon to be opened at Stinson’s will produce a significant volume of waste. A lobster is mostly shell, which is what is driving our investment. Processing the meat will generate a lot of waste, and it’s a closer source of lobster shells for us than New Brunswick or Midcoast processors.”
Quijano said Coast of Maine is now negotiating an agreement with the new owners of the Prospect Harbor facility to share the costs of trucking the lobster shells nearly 60 miles to the Marion Township compost facility.
“We’re waiting on action by the Maine EPA on our application, and we’ll not start doing anything until the transaction is finalized,” Quijano said. “We’re now taking bids to build the pad, and we’re hoping to get that started by the end of March, and we project that we would undertake construction of the building over the summer.”
Lobster processing at what will be known as Maine Fair Trade Lobster isn’t expect to ramp up before this summer. The owners recently announced plans to hire and train as many as 165 workers for annual seasonal employment from June to January.
Quijano said the planned expansion of Coast of Maine’s composting operations could create as many as four full-time jobs and eight part-time jobs at the Marion Township facility.
“What we do there is not a particularly labor-intensive process,” he said.
Over the past 17 years Coast of Maine has staked out what Quijano describes as “a very well-defined niche in the lawn and garden market.”
“Organically certified, compost-based soils of very high quality sell at a premium,” he said. “The interest in natural and organic lawn care and gardening products has begun to gain traction. We’re selling our products to between 500 and 600 independent garden centers as far south as North Carolina and as far west as Chicago. We have four people in Portland, and two sales people who travel, but the heart of our business is our Marion facility.”