Trash plan process picking up pace

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With 2018 coming quickly, the pace of planning for a new regional solid is starting to step up.

The Municipal Review Committee, the quasi-municipal body that represents the 187 cities and towns that currently use the PERC plant in Orrington, is planning on a new solid waste facility for post-2018, when those communities’ current contract with PERC expires. In its early years, PERC was often criticized for increased tipping fees rapidly, leading to the original formation of the MRC more than two decades ago as a means of giving communities more clout in dealing with PERC; for several years, the MRC has been planning because PERC will lose a subsidy it receives for energy it produces at the end of its current contract, and there are fears that the cost to dispose of garbage at PERC will rise sharply – perhaps doubling or more.

That possibility led the MRC last year to explore the possibility of a solid waste facility/landfill at sites in Argyle and Greenbush, but after stiff local opposition and a draft denial of a determination of public benefit by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the MRC withdrew that proposal. At the same time, it said it would continue to explore its options.

A new proposal, later approved by the MRC surfaced about a year ago, with the MRC appearing before Hampden’s town council to announce it was exploring a $60 million, high tech solid waste facility operated by Fibrerite, with plans to convert solid waste into biofuel. Draft contracts were mailed recently to member communities for review; the MRC is working with members to review and receive feedback on key provisions and terms of the contract.

Next month, plans for the facility could become more concrete. The MRC will hold its annual meeting, with a presentation on its post-2018 solution. The board also plans at that time to final the facility’s site lease and master waste and municipal joinder agreements and sent them to members.

Through next May, communities will hold formal votes on the agreements, with the MRC working with members to place the agreements for approval by other town of city councils or voters at annual town meetings. The goal will be to have a 150,000 tons minimum in trash from communities approving the agreement. Once that occurs, $5 million in construction funds will be released for the site’s road and infrastructure, with construction and sitework to follow. Between 2017 and 2018, the facility will be finished and equipment installed and tested. If all goes well, the facility will begin accepting waste from members on April 1, 2018.

Whether the MRC facility will mean the end of PERC is uncertain. Despite the MRC’s belief that PERC won’t be in operating after 2018, its majority owner, USA Energy, has insisted the PERC plant will keep running. The MRC and PERC both are vying for customers post-2018, and PERC sent out draft contracts to current customers this summer for 15 year contracts beginning in 2018. The MRC, however, contends those contracts would be more expensive – perhaps $20 a ton or more higher than what the MRC can offer with the Hampden facility, once credits for biofuels are factored in.