BREWER — The Fiberight advanced waste processing facility took in its long-awaited first batch of recycling on Tuesday.

Once the plant is completed, its state-of-the-art machinery will pick out cardboard, plastics and metals from unsorted garbage and recycling, then convert soluble food waste into biogas and other waste into marketable cellulose. The $69 million Hampden facility is on track to begin accepting municipal waste April 15 and ramp up to full-scale commercial operations by July 1, according to Fiberight CEO Craig Stuart-Paul.

“The MRFF (materials recovery facility, which separates recyclables) is now fully energized, the baler is fully functional and we’re going through each of the systems,” Stuart-Paul said Wednesday afternoon at a Municipal Review Committee board meeting in Brewer. “The last contractor is on track to be out by the end of April. There are still a few cats we’re herding, but the ramp-up for May and June is still on schedule.”

The scale will be certified in the next few days, the control system should be completed in “a couple of weeks” and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection is in the process of assuring the facility’s compliance with state laws, according to George Aronson, a technical advisor to the MRC from CommonWealth Resource Management.

“They are down to the last few conveyers and putting tops on things,” said Aronson, who visited the plant Wednesday morning. “Conveyers are moving; motors are being turned on to make sure they’re wired right. That stuff is happening.”

The MRC is a nonprofit representing 115 Maine towns and cities that have agreed to send waste to the Fiberight facility. While the group readies itself for the commissioning of Fiberight, it also faces another obstacle: finding a new leader. Former Executive Director Greg Lounder resigned March 1 after 14 years with the MRC. Lounder said that it was “the right time to step down,” as the group enters the next phase of its relationship with Fiberight. He oversaw the organization through a tumultuous period that included Fiberight’s groundbreaking in July 2017, multiple delays to its opening and the resulting loss of a handful of MRC member municipalities.

 

FIBERIGHT

Fiberight officials and MRC board members remain tight-lipped about which communities the facility will accept waste from first. Shelby Wright, director of community services for Fiberight, explained the company’s philosophy for choosing how to get municipalities on board.

“There are many factors, but they include the (municipality’s) method of transporting waste and geographical location,” she said. “The ones who are traveling furthest to dispose of waste are coming in first. For example, Bar Harbor is driving all the way to Norridgewock. We have to stop that. But Boothbay and Wiscasset don’t mind driving to Norridgewock.”

The Fiberight plant initially was scheduled to collect waste as early as April 2018, but construction delays pushed that date back a year. In the interim period from last April onward, MRC member communities have had to send their garbage to landfills in Norridgewock and Old Town.

The MRC municipalities farthest away from those landfills include Amity, Bancroft Township, Millinocket, Jonesboro and Jonesport. The ones closest to the landfills with which they currently have disposal contracts include Oakland, Vassalboro, Albion, Unity, Palmyra and Hampden.

“Maintaining flexibility is a good thing,” said MRC board president Chip Reeves, regarding his preference not to make the list of towns public yet. Reeves is also Bar Harbor’s director of public works.

 

NEW LEADERSHIP

Eric Johns is serving as the interim executive director of MRC while the board searches for a long-term person to fill the role. Lounder first announced plans to resign in a letter to the directors dated Feb. 21.

Greg Lounder, executive director of the Municipal Review Committee, resigned March 1 after overseeing the MRC through a tumultuous period. The MRC board is in the process of deciding what they want from a director and whether that person will work full or part time. Kevin Bennett file photo

“The advancement of the MRC mission through the years required the hard work and cooperation of many public and private sector project partners,” he wrote. “I am proud of our collective accomplishments and successes.”

Mentioning the “long and difficult” journey of transitioning to Fiberight, Lounder wrote: “Today we are finishing the journey’s final steps to continue the MRC mission to the next generation.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board debated whether it wanted to hire an employee or use an independent contractor, and whether that individual would work full time or part time. While it did not vote on either of those specifications, the group seemed to favor hiring a full-time employee in order to attract the most competitive applicant pool.

“In my experience, part-time is hard to fill and you’ve got to have a benefits package,” Reeves said. “You’ve got to be able to make it attractive.”

Lounder’s salary was roughly $97,000 a year, according to treasurer Sophie Wilson. Johns is being paid $55 per hour. The new director would have a salary “in the ballpark of $80,000 to $100,000,” said Laurie Linscott, who has been assisting with the search.

 

Meg Robbins — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @megrobbins

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