The Hampden Planning Board voted unanimously to approve construction of Fiberight’s first-in-the-nation waste management plant in the town, a major step toward the controversial plant being built.

The approval this week comes after the Maine Department of Environmental Protection issued conditional final permits to Fiberight and the Municipal Review Committee, the partner organization that represents Maine municipalities that will use the plant despite eight opposition comments on the previously issued draft permits. Those opposition comments included one from the Penobscot Energy Recovery Corp., prompting a complaint from the MRC, which is still partners with the Orrington firm.

Fiberight will convert trash into biofuel and possibly other materials and sell recyclables, and the MRC believes it’s a better economic and environmental option for municipalities after their contract with PERC runs out in March 2018.

The MRC is a nonprofit organization that represents the solid waste interests of more than 100 central Maine towns and has persuaded 114 of the 187 municipalities now using PERC to join the Fiberight plan, including Oakland, China and Vassalboro.

But the MRC is still pushing to get enough towns to commit to the Fiberight project. Other questions nip at the project, including the comment PERC’s lawyers filed with the DEP, which the MRC said violates their partnership agreement and uses the towns’ money to fight the towns’ new option.

Most of the comments included in the recent DEP permitting process, including those from the law firm representing PERC, questioned the partners’ financial and technical ability to fulfill their commitments to the municipalities signing on with Fiberight and expressed concerns that the proposal didn’t follow a state statute on how to go about handling solid waste.

Law firm Bernstein Shur, commenting in a letter on behalf of PERC, asks that the Fiberight project application be denied because there isn’t enough information to consider it complete for processing, the project doesn’t follow the waste management hierarchy, the application materials have “significant internal inconsistencies” and the project requires a determination from the Environmental Protection Agency that it does not have.

The letter also asks the DEP to hold a public hearing on the applications.

The department allowed comments on the draft permits until July 5. Bernstein Shur submitted opposition comments on behalf of PERC on the final date for submission.

The MRC’s complaint said the process used to comment breaches the agreement between USA Energy Group, the majority owner of PERC, the communities represented by the MRC and PERC Holdings LLC.

MRC Executive Director Greg Lounder said that 42 percent of the PERC partnership money belongs to the municipalities the MRC represents, and they have the right to select the counsel to participate in “discussions and other communications with such counsel.”

“Using municipal money to sort of fight the municipalities” is “inappropriate,” said Cathy Conlow, a member of the board of directors of the MRC and Bangor’s city manager.

Technically, PERC’s decision to use Bernstein Shur without including the municipalities in the decision-making process is in “direct violation” of the agreement, a letter from the MRC to PERC’s partners says.

“To cause the municipalities to spend money on legal briefs arguing denial of our project is patently wrong,” Lounder said on the phone last week.

On July 12, Lounder presented a letter to USA Energy Group and PERC Holdings LLC at a PERC oversight committee meeting asserting that the company had breeched their partnership.

The letter says that since the “evident purpose” of using the law firm is to “advance the business interests of USAE” following the expiration of the partnership, this action and expenditure of partnership funds is a “clear violation of your fiduciary duty as General Partner.”

USA Energy Group said in a statement that Bernstein Shur has represented PERC since 1983, and because PERC has used this law firm for years, the letter says that “PERC certainly does not need permission from the MRC to utilize their services on any related matters.”

USA Energy Group says that as a general partner of PERC, it has a “moral and fiduciary responsibility” to all of PERC’s owners and communities. Thus, it has an obligation to review and write an opinion on any and all potential projects and to identify “what we see as serious flaws, omissions and inconsistencies in their permit applications and draft licenses.”

In the MRC’s letter, Lounder asks that PERC provide the MRC with any document that shows the engagement of Bernstein Shur for its services, copies of related invoices, an accounting of all payments the PERC partnership made to the law firm relating to this engagement and copies of all writings or recordings showing communication between the law firm and USA Energy Group or others on behalf of the PERC partnership.

Lounder had not received the material as of last week and did not return multiple phone calls this past week.

Some members on the MRC board of directors compared the latest flap to a feud between the USA Energy Group and the MRC from 2014. The company had spent more than $700,000 on a law firm to lobby the state Legislature to continue subsidizing the price of electricity and possibly other things, said board member W. Elery Keene. The MRC had said it didn’t support the lobbying efforts and filed a complaint to get back the portion of partnership funds the company had spent on it. The complaint has not been resolved, he said.

“We felt they should have used their own money because what they were doing was not representing the stockholders as a whole,” Keene said. “We don’t like it if USA Energy takes corporation money … and uses it against us.”