The first visible sign of a new Fiberight waste-to-energy plant will get underway soon now that the organization representing more than 100 central Maine communities has voted to release millions of dollars in funding to start constructing a road to the site in Hampden.

The Municipal Review Committee voted unanimously Friday to release up to $1.62 million from the more than $20 million tip fee stabilization fund for construction to start this fall.

Jim Guerra, vice president of the review committee’s board of directors, said he and his colleagues are “relieved and excited” to be moving forward with the project.

“We’re doing absolutely everything that we can to stay on schedule,” Guerra said Monday.

The Municipal Review Committee is a nonprofit organization that represents the solid waste interests of 187 municipalities in Maine. Now it works with the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company, but when the contract ends in 2018 the review committee has agreed to send waste to Hampden, where Fiberight plans to build a solid waste plant that will separate recyclables from organic waste and then convert the organics into biofuels.

More than 100 Maine towns have signed on to stay with the review committee through the transition to Fiberight, which the review committee says will be more financially viable than PERC. However, opponents question the feasibility of the plant and whether it is truly an environmentally better alternative to PERC.

While the review committee begins construction on its $5 million end of the deal with Fiberight, the Maryland-based company waits. PERC filed an appeal in Kennebec County Superior Court calling for the reversal of the state’s decision to grant Fiberight permits to build its plant.

As a result, Fiberight’s financial close is now expected to happen next year.

Greg Lounder, executive director of the Municipal Review Committee, said that it’s typical for financial backers to wait until permits are finalized for a project before closing.

Both Municipal Review Committee and Fiberight officials have said they are confident that the court will overrule the appeal.

The money released in 2016 for road and utilities infrastructure will go toward construction activities from mid-October through January, including storm drains, culverts, excavation and more.

Construction will resume again in April 2017, provided the board releases the estimated $3.48 million needed for the rest of the construction. The road and utilities within the road are scheduled to be completed in July, the water will be connected by June and the sewer will be connected by August.

Sometime in 2017, the road should be ready for access to begin building the solid waste plant, though exactly when will depend largely on the weather, according to Jessamine Pottle, representative for CES, Inc., the engineering company working with the review committee.

The money released for road construction won’t affect the departing members’ funds, the review committee said. At the end of the contract, the review committee will create the percentage of funds departing members will receive based on the amount that would have been in the tip fee stabilization fund had there not been any expenses for the Fiberight project, according to Sophie Wilson, the board treasurer.

The board also voted 7-0 to approve the final settlement terms regarding litigation with the USA Energy Group. The review committee had alleged that USA Energy in 2013 hired an Augusta lobbying firm to support a legislative bill without first consulting the committee, which opposed the bill because it would prolong the life of the PERC plant and cost communities millions more in disposal expenses. A significantly altered bill eventually was signed into law in 2013.

A key provision of the settlement is USA Energy Group paying $600,000 to the Municipal Review Committee communities. The settlement also clearly defines the “closing down of the partnership” between the two organizations to avoid future costs and negotiations, according to Guerra.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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