Clinton town officials are opting not to pursue a food recycling program this year, citing concerns over community participation and the cost. 

The Clinton Board of Selectmen voiced concerns about participation in the program at a regular meeting Tuesday, while Town Manager Earla Haggerty said she was concerned about the cost of the program fitting into the current budget. 

“I don’t get the sense that Clinton is against this program,” Haggerty said. “We’re just against it at this time.”

Clinton’s decision comes in contrast with other communities in the area, as Winslow launched its program last month and the Waterville City Council has approved a program, although city officials have not yet decided where the drop-off site will be.  

Clinton Town Manager Earla Haggerty said she is concerned about the potential cost of a town food recycling program. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

At its April 27 meeting, the Clinton board saw a presentation on the program from Gabe Gauvin, environmental planner at Kennebec Valley Council of Governments.  

The proposed program would have been created in partnership with the Sen. George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions at the University of Maine. It would have put several large bins for food waste at the transfer station in Clinton, where residents could easily drop it off. It would then be picked up by the company Agri-Cycle, which then takes the food waste to a digester and turns it into a usable fertilizer. 

The town would need 35% of households to participate in the program to break even financially. After that point, it’s cheaper per ton of food waste for Agri-Cycle to take it than it would be for the garbage company to take it to a landfill. 

At the time of the presentation, the board said it wanted to hear from the Benton Selectboard and transfer station staff. 

While the director of the transfer station, David Woods, was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting, he did send a letter to the board that Haggerty read. Woods wrote that he was unsure there was a good place at the station to put the bins for food waste that would not back up traffic, and that he was concerned about attracting animals as well. 

Board Chairman Jeffrey Towne said he was wary of expecting a high number residents to participate at the start of the program. 

“I’m sort of pessimistic about engagement of the community starting out with this type of waste program,” he said. 

And if the engagement is less than that 35% marker, it will be more expensive than the current system. That cost was an issue for Haggerty, who pointed out that this program is not built into the current budget or the approaching 2021-22 budget. 

“It became a cost that I thought was untenable for our new budget,” Haggerty said. “If we like this program and we really want to do it, I think we need to purposely build it in to a budget and not try to stretch a budget that we are already way past go on.” 

Selectman Ronnie Irving said he would like to see a survey of residents, so the board could know more specifically about interest. The selectmen and Haggerty said they were not opposed to the measure indefinitely; they just didn’t think it was a viable option now.

The board and Haggerty agreed to work with KVCOG to distribute educational materials about the potential program. The also will survey residents’ interest in the next year and then reconsider the program in building the 2022-23 budget.

Gauvin, the environmental planner who attended Tuesday’s meeting as well, said he understood the budgetary concerns and that KVCOG could also work with the board to develop a different type of food recycling program if they decide that this model isn’t the best fit.  

“When we’re looking forward to the next year, we don’t have to just look at this one option,” Gauvin said. “There are still many alternatives available.”

In other business, the board approved several action items including approving a formal definition of the Village District for the Clinton Comprehensive Plan. The definition will now go before the Comprehensive Plan Committee, and if approved, will appear on the plan that voters will see June 8. 

The board will next meet May 25, and that meeting will include an informational public hearing on the budget, town warrant and comprehensive plan.  

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