Waste and baled recyclables in Fiberight’s Hampden waste recovery plant. Courtesy of Fiberight/Coastal Resources of Maine

Central Maine towns that have been sending trash to a Norridgewock landfill since the Coastal Maine LLC facility in Hampden suspended operations May 28 because of financial difficulties hope the plant will reopen, but some aren’t sure that will happen.

“I’m a little skeptical now about the whole thing,” said Penny Picard Sampson, chairwoman of the Unity Board of Selectmen.

Like several other area towns, Unity had been sending its trash to Waste Management-Crossroads Landfill in Norridgewock until late fall last year when it began using Coastal, a facility that seeks to turn about 80% of the material it receives into biogas, plastic fuel briquettes, paper pulp and the like. But Coastal accepted trash only sporadically during its startup time, so Unity reverted to sending its trash, on and off, to Norridgewock.

The Municipal Review Committee, of which Unity and about 114 towns are members, is a nonprofit corporation trying to ensure disposal of municipal solid waste that is affordable, long-term, and environmentally sound. The MRC has worked the last seven years to sponsor the development of Coastal, whose parent company is Fiberight. Coastal, which owns and operates the Hampden recycling facility, built it on land owned by the MRC. The corporation leases the land to Coastal.

But the MRC announced in late May that Coastal was unable to secure a $14.7 million loan to help improve the plant and improve cash flow and that the plant would suspend operations temporarily.

Meanwhile, the company that operated and staffed the plant, NAES Corp., of Washington state, filed a lawsuit against Coastal, saying it was not getting paid for its services and could no longer support the plant with its own money.

Towns such as Unity, Oakland and China hope Coastal will reopen. They said that sending trash there was sporadic after Coastal opened last fall, as the facility worked out bugs, and they had to send trash sometimes to Norridgewock, where they are sending it now.

Dylan Clark, director of the Oakland Transfer Station, said Friday that Oakland prefers to send trash to Coastal because it is more environmentally sound than putting it in a landfill where it is covered and just left there. Clark said he hopes the town will be able to resume sending trash to Coastal.

Employees of Fiberight oversee the waste-processing system in Hampden. Courtesy of Fiberight/Coastal Resources of Maine

“I’m not 100% sure what’s going on with them, but I believe we will,” he said. “I’d really rather go to saving the environment, rather than saving money. I think it’s a better option than the landfill because it does get put back into recycling stuff rather than a landfill. It takes a lot of things out of the waste stream. Fiberight is a good option. They just need to iron things out before they get too large and they can’t accommodate everything.”

Karen Fussell, president of the MRC’s Board of Directors, said Friday that the MRC is working with all parties to help ensure the plant reopens.

“We’re hoping to see if we can find a new investor, new management to come in and run the plant,” Fussell said. “That’s our goal, to get it reopened.”

She said the MRC is working with Fiberight, bond holders and private equity partners and the MRC is confident it will succeed in reopening.

The plant, she said, had been waiting for permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection. Since it was operating without permits, it was unable to sell its products.

“It was a negative revenue situation,” she said. “They just ran out of cash.”

But now Coastal has those DEP permits, the plant is working and she is confident it will resume operations.

Fussell said the MRC will hold an open town hall at 10 a.m. Wednesday to get information out and update people on reopening efforts.

Anyone may access the Zoom Virtual Town Hall Meeting but must register in advance for this webinar at

https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_-EVe2xIwRky2XYLYn6ZbDw.

The first 100 registrants will be able to watch via Zoom, but the meeting will be recorded and streamed via Facebook live on MRC’s page.

A bulldozer operator caps a section of the Crossroads Landfill operated by Waste Management in Norridgewock on Aug. 30, 2018. Host fees the operator pays the town will increase in line with a new development in the landfill that will extend its life to 2041. Morning Sentinel file photo

Meanwhile, just when Coastal may begin accepting trash again is uncertain. It is not clear how long Waste Management will be able to continue accepting waste from MRC towns now sending to Norridgewock.

A call Friday afternoon seking comment from Jeff McGown, district manager for Waste Management, was not immediately returned.

Likewise, a call to the public relations-marketing office for NAES, the Washington corporation that filed suit against Coastal, also was not returned.

An email sent to Michael Carroll, executive director of the MRC, was not returned Friday.

 

TOWNS DIVERT TRASH

Tim Grotton, who manages the China Transfer Station, was not available Friday, but station attendant Gary McCarty said China has been sending trash to Norridgewock and tires and mixed loads to Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. in Orrington. Recyclables are collected by Casella Waste Systems.

Trash is dropped off at the hopper at the China Transfer Station on Sept. 11, 2019. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

“We’re a little bit different than most — we actually sort our recyclables. We sort cardboard, glass, No. 2 plastic, cans. We’re basically only sending household trash to Norridgewock.”

Like Clark, of Oakland, McCarty said China would rather send trash to Coastal, but he is not sure it will resume operations any time soon.

“They went to get a loan and couldn’t get a loan, so chances are, they’re not going to find the funding in one month,” he said. “I don’t think they’re in good shape. We’re not planning on them opening up, basically.”

Picard Sampson, chairwoman of the Unity Board of Selectmen, said Sullivan’s Waste Disposal & Recycling of Troy had been taking Unity’s waste to Norridgewock, but around the end of October last year, it started hauling it to Coastal. Sullivan’s owner, Gary Sullivan, notified her a week ago that Coastal was suspending operations.

The MRC, Picard Sampson said, is “leading us to believe” Coastal will reopen.

“I don’t know how long Norridgewock can continue taking it,” she said, of the town’s trash. “The problem with Norridgewock is, they close earlier. In order to accommodate Norridgewock’s early closing time, it means Sullivan’s has to pick up trash earlier, so people have to put it out earlier.”

Picard Sampson said Unity received a letter by certified mail May 29 saying Coastal was suspending operations because of contractual issues with the plant operator as it pursued a needed additional round of funding to support facility improvements and cash flow.

Vassalboro Town Manager Mary Sabins was out of the office Friday afternoon. An email to Selectman Titus Lauchlin seeking comment on the trash matter was not immediately returned Friday.

 

ANOTHER VIEW

Bill Lippincott, chairman of the group, Don’t Waste ME, said Friday that he has followed Fiberight’s efforts for years and has always been skeptical of the process because he thinks it is not recycling; it is a waste-to-energy operation.

Lippincott said it is very costly to convert raw trash into products such as briquettes, pulp and biogas (or methane, a greenhouse gas), which Coastal is doing, and separating out recyclable materials from trash is not the right way to go because it reduces the value of the material. Such plants in Europe are successful because items are separated before they go into the facilities, according to Lippincott. He contends it will be difficult to sell biogas as the price will not be competitive with natural gas, for instance.

Don’t Waste ME is a coalition of Mainers advocating for responsible policies that protect the health of communities most at risk from negative impacts of landfill, incinerator, leachate and sludge disposal operations, according to its website.

In the last two years as the Hampden plant was being developed, a lot of waste was put into landfills, and since Coastal suspended operations last month, more is going to landfills, according to Lippincott.

“An enormous amount of waste was land-filled because it hasn’t been functioning properly,” he said. “That’s the tragedy.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.