The big decision facing the Lewiston City Council in January will be whether it is willing to separate the image of Casella Waste Systems as a landfill operator from its less troubled record for operating recycling centers.
The council received a draft contract from City Manager Ed Barrett recently proposing the city lease an unused building at its River Road facility to the Vermont-based waste company for large-scale recycling.
Casella has proposed building a 15,000-square-foot automated recycling center at the city’s transfer station near the entrance to the landfill.
At full capacity, the facility would process 45,000 tons of recyclables per year, all from Lewiston and other Maine communities.
The plans came under attack Dec. 11 when a group of local residents and outside garbage activists voiced their objections to doing any business with the multistate waste disposal company.
Complaints ranged from Casella’s poor financial performance in recent years to its troubled record of operating landfills and history of litigating with regulators and host communities.
The company operates a total of 15 recycling centers in New York and New England, seven of which are the new Zero-Sort variety they would place in Lewiston.
A Sun Journal reporter and photographer traveled to a similar plant in Charlestown, Mass., in September and filed a story and video about that operation.
While there have been myriad complaints over the years about the company’s landfill operations in Maine, it is difficult to find any complaints about its Zero-Sort recycling facilities in Massachusetts.
But Casella has a high public-relations hurdle to overcome locally that dates from negotiations in 2005 for the company to take over the city’s sanitary landfill. According to that deal, Casella would have paid the city $1 million per year to control the landfill and be responsible for future expansions.
The plan was scrapped when hundreds of local residents rose up in opposition to Casella having anything to do with city’s landfill.
The current recycling plan would not involve the landfill. Even the small portion of unrecyclable waste from the plant would go elsewhere.
The proposed 20-year lease could generate significant benefits for one of the most cash-strapped municipal governments in the state.
It would provide 25 jobs with benefits and an annual payroll of about $1 million, pay $100,000 a year in property taxes as well as $60,000 yearly to lease the underutilized building.
The deal would also eliminate about $90,000 in facility operating expenses and guarantee the city the lowest processing rate for its own recycling.
The total financial benefit to city government would be about $250,000 per year.
Barrett told the Sun Journal that he dealt with Casella on a recycling contract in his former job as Bangor city manager and had no problems with the company.
In January, councilors and taxpayers will have to weigh their fears about Casella against the income, savings and jobs the plant would provide.
Sun Journal, Lewiston (Dec. 23)