The long-anticipated first load of municipal solid waste is delivered to the Coastal Resources of Maine processing facility in Hampden on April 22, 2019. Coastal Resources of Maine is the official name for the Fiberight-owned plant, which has been shut down temporarily. Courtesy of Fiberight

As the Municipal Review Committee and Fiberight seek new ownership and management of the Coastal Maine LLC recycling and waste-to-energy plant in Hampden, about 3/4 of the municipal solid waste from 115 review committee municipalities will now temporarily be sent to Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. in Orrington.

Coastal closed its facility temporarily May 28 because of financial issues and waste from the 115 municipalities belonging to the MRC was sent to landfills: Crossroads-Waste Management in Norridgewock and Juniper Ridge in Alton, near Old Town. As part of an agreement, any waste needing to be diverted from Coastal would go to the Norridgewock facility.

But to reduce the amount of waste being landfilled, Waste Management is now allowing most of it to go to PERC, according to review committee representatives who held a virtual town meeting Wednesday morning.

The MRC announced that as of Monday, Coastal had defaulted on the $1.5 million loan it received from the review committee, which sent Coastal a notice of default on May 27.

But Jon Pottle, the review committee’s legal counsel, said the committee was not exercising its right to terminate the agreement with Coastal. The primary reason for that, he said, is that the review committee doesn’t believe it makes sense to do so while the process for seeking an owner, operator and financial investors is going on in an effort to reopen the plant. Keeping everything in place provides a lot of value and makes the facility more attractive, Pottle said.

The review committee is a nonprofit corporation that seeks to ensure affordable, long-term and environmentally sound disposal of municipal solid waste and has worked several years to sponsor Coastal, which owns and operates the Fiberight facility. Coastal’s parent company is Fiberight.

George Aronson, technical consultant for the review committee, said Wednesday that the plant has been cleaned and is being monitored and there has been a lot of inquiries from “multiple” entities interested in the facility, but officials can not say who they are. A skeleton crew still works at the plant as tours of it are held.

“At some point, these entities will need to go public, but they’re not ready at this point,” Aronson said of the interested parties.

He said that the review committee expects that within the next few weeks it will know how many entities are seriously interested.

Employees of Fiberight oversee the waste-processing system in Hampden. The Municipal Review Committee, which represents the 115 towns that subscribe to the plant, has diverted the trash stream to Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. in Orrington while the Hampden plant is closed. Courtesy of Fiberight/Coastal Resources of Maine

Karen Fussell, president of the review committee’s Board of Directors, said she knows that some committee members’ patience is wearing thin. She said the board expects to have more information at its July 22 meeting. The review committee also plans to hold another town hall in August, according to Fussell, who is Brewer’s financial director. It’s first virtual town hall was held June 17.

A person who called in to the meeting Wednesday wanted a “yes” or “no” answer to the question: if Coastal is in violation of its contract, are individual municipalities free to dispose of waste as they see fit?

Pottle said that right now, members’ waste is being bypassed and that means the obligation is to send it to Waste Management. An alternative agreement was put in place to send some of it to PERC, but the waste disposal agreement is still in place and contracts are still in place. Coastal’s default does not equate to termination of the contract, according to Pottle. He said there’s an ongoing default and ongoing efforts to reopen the facility.

“The answer is essentially, ‘No,'” he said. “All members still need to act under the existing construct.”

Another caller asked if most of the municipal solid waste from review committee members is being sent to PERC, did that mean none was going to Juniper Ridge.

“That is correct,” said Michael Carroll, the review committee’s executive director. “Everything that we were sending to Juniper Ridge under the swap agreement we are now sending to PERC.”

Another caller asked who is responsible for the Coastal debt.

“Coastal is the borrower,” Aronson said. “Coastal is responsible to pay back the loan.”

The review committee has been fulfilling all of its obligations, according to Pottle, who said Coastal has not.

“It is not MRC’s condition that has resulted in any default,” he said.

In response to a question about the $1.5 million loan to Coastal, Fussell said the board is hopeful it will be repaid, and every effort is being made to make sure that happens. It may be that the payments are made over time, she said. Aronson agreed.

“We are hopeful,” he said. “We’re not certain. We are working on it, and we’ll get back when we know more.”

Tony Smith, the board’s vice president, noted that Fiberight is still involved in the plant and efforts to reopen it.

“Coastal Resources of Maine was created and Fiberight didn’t just walk away,” said Smith, who also is public works director for Mt. Desert. “They are still involved, very much so, in that facility.”

Coastal seeks to turn about 80% of the material it receives into biogas, plastic fuel briquettes, paper pulp and similar products.

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.

The review committee announced in late May that Coastal was unable to secure a $14.7 million loan to help improve the plant and cash flow and that is why operations were suspended. One of the reasons it had difficulty is that it was unable to sell its product while awaiting state Department of Environmental Protection permits. Those permits are now in place.

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