Communities waiting for a new state-of-the-art waste processing facility to come online can send their trash to Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. in the meantime, but they have to pay extra to do so, a local board decided Thursday.
But opponents of the decision argued PERC is in part to blame for the delays in opening the new facility, and it’s wrong to let the Orrington-based waste company profit from the hangup.
While waiting for the new $69 million Fiberight waste processing plant to open in Hampden, most affected communities have resorted to landfilling to get rid of refuse. But others defied their new group contract and turned back to PERC, which held the coalition waste disposal pact until April 1.
On Thursday, the Municipal Review Committee Board of Directors voted 7-2 to allow any of its 115 member communities to send their waste to PERC for an additional $50 charge per ton, on top of the $70 tipping fee that is currently paid to Waste Management, which runs Crossroads Landfill in Norridgewock. Of the additional $50 fee, $20 would go to PERC and $30 would be given to Waste Management.
Central, northern and Down East communities who use the temporary waiver to send their waste to PERC will not be penalized under their waste disposal contracts, MRC Executive Director Greg Lounder said.
“Joining members would be granted a limited waiver from the exclusivity provisions of the Crossroads agreement to allow for interim delivery of [waste] to PERC and to provide assurance that such deliveries would not constitute a default under the Crossroads agreement,” the new agreement read.
Lounder, who did not take part in the vote, said he opposed the alternative. Other members blamed PERC’s appeal of Fiberight’s state-issued permits as the reason for the waste-to-biofuel plant’s delayed opening, which was supposed to be April 1.
In 2016, MRC decided to end its contract with Orrington-based PERC and work with its competitor, Fiberight, to build the 144,000-square-foot, $69 million facility in Hampden. Construction began in July 2016. But as of its April 1 deadline, the facility was months from completion, pushing waste from MRC cities and towns to landfills.
“We’ve known all along that landfill was our fallback,” board member Tony Smith said. “The way I do business is when I sign an agreement, I follow through with it.”
Board member Chip Reeves, who voted against the waiver, said he understands “there’s an emotional element out there, and it’s very real and it hurts, and it’s a tough one to take,” but he “can’t support the agreement.”
“We are behind schedule, but again, it’s because there was an appeal. If we had not had that appeal we wouldn’t be here sitting talking about this now,” he said. “We’ve done too much hard work and we’re implementing it, and I just don’t think it’s fair to the majority of our communities that have joined to give a way out of an agreement that was signed.”
Board member and Orono Town Manager Sophie Wilson disagreed with Reeves.
“I don’t see where it hurts the MRC to allow communities, at their own cost, that feel strongly about this, an option,” she said. “My community is one that will pay the extra money to send our waste to PERC.”
There’s no threat to the MRC’s future relationship with Fiberight by allowing this option, she said. Instead, “I think we’re being responsive to a real concern from some of our members. If there are people willing to pay more money … I think we should offer that.”
The waiver was granted as a temporary solution until the Hampden waste-to-biofuel facility is completed. Since April 1, MRC communities have been sending their waste to Crossroads and the Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town as a fallback option, once it became clear the waste-to-biofuel Fiberight facility in Hampden was months behind its construction schedule. Once the facility is finished, it will have the capacity to process up to 180,000 tons of waste each year through anaerobic digestion and recycling.
Last month, five coastal communities, including Blue Hill and Surry, who share a transfer station opted to violate their MRC contracts in order to send their waste to PERC. MRC warned that communities who violate the contract could face “significant legal liability.”
Representatives from some of those towns were present at the Thursday board meeting, and board members suggested they fall in line with the waiver the organization has now offered and pay additional fees.
The board unanimously voted to send the five towns a “notice of default,” urging them to fall in line with the new parameters by July 1.
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