The new Hampden facility that was supposed to start taking in trash from 115 towns and cities in the Bangor area and beyond 15 months ago has missed another estimate for when it would be fully up and running.
The company that’s developing the plant, Fiberight, most recently said that it would be fully online by July 1, after it was originally expected to open in April 2018.
But the plant still has not reached full commercial operations and may not do so until the second or third week of August, according to Fiberight spokesperson Shelby Wright. Most of the towns and cities waiting to send their waste to the plant are landfilling it in the interim.
Wright said that the individual sections of the plant are almost all running, but it has taken longer than expected to integrate them so that the entire plant can run continuously.
“We want to make sure we get a reliable, solid production line before we open the flood gates,” Wright said. There have been “little snags in the integration of systems here and there, but we know exactly what the issues are. There have been no red flags, no show stoppers. The equipment is working. It’s producing the products that we want it to produce.”
Some communities have been able to send occasional shipments of waste to the Fiberight plant in recent months as it ramps up operations, but the sizes of those deliveries have been highly variable, according to George Aronson, a technical adviser to the Municipal Review Committee, the group that represents the 115 towns and cities that will use the waste plant.
Wright said that most MRC communities have sent isolated shipments of waste to the plant, but some still have not and will be invited to do so in the coming weeks.
While the plant as a whole has yet to start running, the front end of the plant that separates recyclables such as bottles and cans has been working nonstop since the end of April, according to Wright. That has allowed MRC communities that chose to send their recycling to the plant separately from their trash to do so regularly.
Fiberight must still do several other things before the plant can go online.
It is still seeking approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to sell off the pulp that it produces from waste.
Wright said that the company has been in talks with manufacturers who could potentially use the pulp in the production of paper, cardboard, mulch and oil absorption materials.
It’s also still completing the anaerobic digester that will convert food and other organic waste into biogas that can then be pumped into a Bangor Natural Gas pipeline.
Aronson said he understands that some “people are impatient” for the project to be completed, but that it’s important for such a large project to not be rushed in its final stages.
“It’s better to do something right,” he said. “We are making sure we are being deliberate.”
Before the plant goes online, Fiberight will also have to undergo multiple days of testing to demonstrate to the MRC that it can continuously operate and that it can generate products with commercial value.
When fully operational, the plant is expected to employ about 50 people and convert the solid waste it receives into a mix of end products that can then be sold to make the operation financially viable. The products will include cellulose pulp, plastic fuel briquettes, biogas, and recycled plastics and metals.
Weather-related construction holdups and a legal challenge to Fiberight’s environmental permits by a competitor contributed to the initial delays in bringing the plant online.