A last-minute effort by opponents of selling a shuttered Hampden trash plant to a Pennsylvania company with a history of misrepresentation has failed.
The Bar Harbor Town Council was the only one of the Municipal Review Committee’s 115 member communities that asked for a meeting of all of the agency’s members in an effort to learn more about the Pennsylvania company, Delta Thermo Energy. The company is poised to finish its purchase of the Coastal Resources of Maine plant, according to the Municipal Review Committee, which represents the communities that send their waste to the Hampden plant.
Other boards discussed the request for an all-members meeting, including in Orono, Southwest Harbor and Mount Desert, but did not end up endorsing it.
While there was never any likelihood that a members-only meeting would halt the deal, it had the potential to further draw out a months-long process that Municipal Review Committee officials have tried hard to bring to a close.
Executive Director Michael Carroll and George Aronson, a technical adviser to the committee, appeared in a special select board meeting for the town of Mount Desert on May 27. Though several board members were skeptical about Delta Thermo, they ended up voting down the proposal for an all-members meeting 4-1, with members saying the meeting was unlikely so close to the deadline for the deal to close.
Carroll said Municipal Review Committee officials plan to attend a future Bar Harbor Town Council meeting “since it’s clear that members of the Bar Harbor Town Council have questions.”
A frequent topic of the Mount Desert meeting was Delta Thermo’s lack of experience and apparent embellishment of its record. Delta Thermo CEO Rob Van Naarden has mischaracterized his company’s domestic and foreign work, the Bangor Daily News has reported.
Two of five people that continue to be listed on Delta Thermo’s technology advisory board, for example, said they had not agreed to currently be on the board. In late April, Van Naarden said his company owned and ran waste processing plants near Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and Atlantic City, New Jersey, even though no records exist for a Williamsport-area operation and the New Jersey operation was a small-scale pilot project.
Van Naarden has also been inconsistent in describing his company’s technology, saying in late April that it doesn’t involve burning trash, even though the process Delta Thermo lists on its website and for which it has a patent involves mixing wastewater sludge with household trash and burning the mixture to produce electricity.
Overseas, Van Naarden said in January that Delta Thermo had developed a processing facility in Shari, Japan. But Delta Thermo’s Shari-based partner said the Pennsylvania company had no involvement with its Japanese operations.
Asked about Delta Thermo Energy’s experience at the Mount Desert meeting, Aronson said he “didn’t know if there’s anything that I could add to the conversation at this point.” He said he was comfortable with the deal because it was the best path to reopening the Hampden plant.
On Monday, Carroll said that no buyer would be able to claim experience running a facility like the Coastal Resources of Maine plant. But Delta Thermo staff have been on site since negotiations started, he said, becoming familiar with the technology, identifying needed improvements, recruiting staff and meeting with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
They have been, “in short, doing all the responsible things we want a buyer to do to prepare to take ownership,” Carroll said.
Advocates of a members’ meeting, including Jim Vallette, a member of the Southwest Harbor Warrant Committee and a waste industry consultant, and Ant Blasi of Hancock, a former Hancock County commissioner, had acknowledged that the cards might be stacked against them. The 60,000-ton requirement was a high threshold to meet in a short period.
Vallette said that he was disappointed that it had taken so long for Municipal Review Committee officials to seemingly acknowledge problems with Delta Thermo, noting that board members and staff had ignored a question about Van Naarden’s misstatements in an April 28 meeting. He also wished other communities had tried to save their residents from what he described as an “awful” contract.
“We are disappointed in our officials and will remain vigilant,” Vallette said. “In the meantime, we will continue to work more on the town and state level on ways to minimize waste.”
A special meeting featuring the Municipal Review Committee could have occurred if member communities that collectively generate 60,000 tons of waste each year requested one in writing by June 2. That date was 30 days after the committee released a memo outlining four new provisions that its board unanimously approved on April 21 to help hasten the sale of the plant to Delta Thermo.
While the Municipal Review Committee owns the land on which the waste plant sits, the ultimate authority for selling the plant falls to the plant’s bondholders, which are numerous investment firms based primarily in cities such as New York and Chicago.
Carroll said the committee “has been negotiating vigorously with the bondholders and the buyer on behalf of its members, and we are satisfied that the transaction structure, material items, and fundamental matters are all in line with the best interests of MRC members.”