HAMPDEN, Maine — The Municipal Revenue Committee and Maryland-based Fiberight held a groundbreaking Wednesday at the entrance to their new solid waste processing and recycling facility on Coldbrook Road that will change trash into biogas, even though their competition is suing the state over the permits needed to operate.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection in July approved the MRC-Fiberight waste-to-energy plant’s permits for air emissions, solid waste processing, stormwater management and compliance with the Natural Resources Protection Act for the planned $69 million, 144,000-square-foot processing plant and recycling facility.
The following month, an appeal was filed in Kennebec County Superior Court by Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. in Orrington, along with its majority owner, USA Energy of Minnesota, and Exeter Agri-Energy, saying that the Maine DEP erred in issuing the permits for Fiberight’s proposed solid waste processing plant.
“They’re moving forward at risk, and they understand that,” David Burns, project manager of the division of Technical Services, Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management, said Tuesday. “The work that is being done is the road and utilities. It’s what they needed to do” to stay on schedule.
Fiberight CEO Craig Stuart-Paul said Maine DEP officials scoured their application to ensure it aligned with the state’s solid waste hierarchy, which lists landfilling trash as the least optimal option. He said those involved in the project believe the appeal is frivolous and have decided to move forward to keep the construction project on schedule.
“The good news about the permits being delayed is that they are bulletproof,” Stuart-Paul said just before the groundbreaking ceremony started.
Maine DEP put together the official project record for the court in response to the appeal and filed it last week, Burns said.
The appeal was recently moved to the Business and Consumer Court in Portland, Assistant Attorney General Mary Sauer said Wednesday in an email.
“The next step will be for the parties to file briefs,” Sauer said. “I anticipate that the petitioners’ brief will be due later this fall, and briefs for the respondents, including Maine DEP, will be due about a month or so later.”
At the plant, which is planned for a 90-acre parcel between Ammo Industrial Park, Interstate 95 and Coldbrook Road, Fiberight plans to use technology that will change organic materials in trash into biogas after the glass, metal, paper and plastic are recycled. Biogas is similar to natural gas.
“Change is hard, but change is the right decision for our region,” said Chip Reeves, president of the MRC’s board of directors and Bar Harbor public works director. “Our solution matches our priorities.”
Increasing recycling and using organic waste while creating an economically feasible facility that will last for years to come is the goal of the new trash processing facility, he said.
The MRC is a nonprofit organization formed in 1991 to address the garbage disposal interests of a group of towns that totals 187 communities. The towns currently send their trash to PERC, which the MRC partly owns. The group’s leaders started looking for alternatives five years ago because they believe PERC will not be profitable after 2018, when a lucrative above-market contract for the electric power it generates expires.
The MRC also recently voted to settle a lawsuit it filed against USA Energy, PERC’s majority owner, in exchange for $600,000, and to exit the three-party partnership that owns the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. facility on March 31, 2018, in exchange for $5.4 million.
The MRC and Fiberight entered a partnership to build the Hampden facility at the end of 2015.
“We’re completely thrilled to be moving forward,” MRC board member Jim Guerra said at the end of the event. “We look forward to an opening sometime next year.”
That is when the board expects the system to be up and running and for operational trials to begin. Sargent Corp. has been selected as the new development partner, MRC Executive Director Greg Lounder said, after he thanked several businesses and consultants and the H.O. Bouchard family for having the foresight to want to develop their land as an industrial park. He also thanked his parents, who were in the audience.
“They taught me to take the time to figure out the right thing to do and then get it done,” Lounder said, adding, “We’re almost there.”
The biofuel plant should take 12 to 14 months to build. During the groundbreaking, Stuart-Paul said there are trash processing facilities around the globe that make biofuels out of garbage, but none that are designed to use or reuse about 80 percent of the trash that arrives at the gates.
“It will be a vision for the rest in the world to come see,” he said.