Energized by a vote this week from the Bar Harbor Town Council, critics of a pending sale of a shuttered Hampden waste plant to a Pennsylvania company are pushing for the disclosure of more information about the potential buyer.
On Tuesday, the Bar Harbor Town Council unanimously called for a members’ meeting of the Municipal Review Committee, the public body of more than 100 communities that are contracted to send their waste to the Coastal Resources of Maine plant in Hampden. The goal: to find out more information about Delta Thermo Energy, which is set to purchase the plant by June.
While the Municipal Review Committee owns the land on which the plant sits, the ultimate authority to sell the plant belongs to the plant’s bondholders, which are several investment firms based primarily in cities such as New York City and Chicago. Municipal Review Committee officials have said that its primary responsibility during negotiations has been to represent its members and scrutinize Delta Thermo’s capability to run the plant.
“I’m very disappointed in the leadership of the MRC,” Bar Harbor councilor Gary Friedmann said Tuesday. “They haven’t answered the hard questions that the Bangor Daily News and people like Jim Vallette from the Southwest Harbor Warrant Committee have asked.”
Delta Thermo Energy CEO Rob Van Naarden has mischaracterized his company’s domestic and foreign work. Vallette, a waste industry consultant, has long advocated against the sale of the plant to Delta Thermo, citing environmental concerns about the company’s technology and the misrepresentations by Van Naarden.
It is still unclear how many other MRC member towns might want to call for an MRC members meeting. The Orono Town Council discussed the proposed changes in a committee meeting on Thursday. Select boards in Southwest Harbor and Waldoboro will discuss it separately on Tuesday. Advocates say they have spoken to officials from other communities who may also get involved.
Municipal Review Committee Executive Director Michael Carroll said Wednesday that he was disappointed by Bar Harbor’s position. He singled out Friedmann’s comments that the vote would “make some headlines and waves.” Friedmann had said that Bar Harbor taking a stand on the issue could help make the Municipal Review Committee more transparent.
Carroll said that he had been in constant communication with the MRC’s members and had not heard any concerns about the deal from Bar Harbor officials, elected and otherwise, throughout the months-long sale process.
“Our members contact me all the time,” Carroll said. “I’ve never not returned a call or not answered an email. So, I’m just puzzled — and disappointed — by that motivation.”
Carroll said he had not heard from any other Municipal Review Committee members who wanted a public meeting and that the committee had not received the official notice from Bar Harbor necessary to help trigger the process.
Such a special meeting can be called if member communities that collectively generate a total of 60,000 tons of waste each year formally request one by June 2. That date is 30 days after the MRC released a memo outlining four new provisions unanimously approved by the MRC board on April 21 that it said would help advance the sale of the plant to Delta Thermo Energy. If no action is taken, the board’s decision will stand, and the MRC will proceed with the plant’s sale.
Advocates of holding a members’ meeting, including Vallette and former Hancock County commissioner Ant Blasi of Hancock, recognize that the odds are stacked against them. The 60,000-ton limit is a high barrier that would need to be reached within two weeks for the meeting to occur. They view it as a last-ditch attempt to get the Municipal Review Committee to be honest with the communities it represents about the sale of the plant to Delta Thermo.
In a May 11 meeting with Carroll, China Transfer Station Committee Chair Larry Sikora voiced skepticism about whether Delta Thermo was the best choice to buy the plant. Sikora said Thursday he was skeptical about some aspects of Delta Thermo’s credentials, but hoped the deal was successful for the sake of the communities involved.
Bangor, which would provide nearly half of the 60,000 tons needed to trigger a members meeting, was not set to take a vote to call for a members meeting, city council chair Dan Tremble said Wednesday. City Manager Cathy Conlow said the Coastal Resources of Maine sale would be discussed in a council meeting featuring Carroll on June 14 — after the June 2 deadline for calling for an MRC members meeting.
More than 100 communities that compose the membership of the MRC generate a total of about 103,000 tons of waste annually, according to the agency. With a combined total of 60,931 tons, the 10 largest waste generators — the top four of which are Bangor, Brewer, Bar Harbor and a group of four towns in the Boothbay region — could trigger a meeting.
It would be impossible to trigger a meeting without at least one of the top four members, as the other 79 members have a combined 59,682 tons of annual waste.
Boothbay Town Manager Dan Bryer said Thursday that the select board did not have plans to discuss the matter.