Source: Sun Chronicle, Kate Irish Collins, Wednesday, April 4, 2012
BIDDEFORD – The wheels are in motion to finally close the Maine Energy Recovery Co. trash incinerator, which has been located in downtown Biddeford for more than 25 years, according to a resolution brought before the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee late last week.
Sponsored by state Sen. Barry Hobbins, who represents the cities of Biddeford and Saco, the resolution states that Casella Waste Systems, which owns Maine Energy, “is willing to sell the facility to Biddeford at a price set below its assessed value.”
In exchange Casella wants the state to transfer ownership of the Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town to the company and allow it to dispose of a limited amount of municipal solid waste, including trash from out of state, on an annual basis.
On Tuesday Hobbins said he’s not been privy to the negotiations going on between the city of Biddeford and Casella, but did say, “it’s good news that Casella has come to the table and seems willing to negotiate in good faith to close the plant.”
“It’s encouraging for the communities,” he added. “This could be the shot in the arm they need to be put over the top in terms of economic development.”
Hobbins said there are “several moving parts” to this proposal, including Casella’s plans for its property in Westbrook, where a facility to create burnable pellets out of the trash processed there has already been approved.
“I just hope we don’t run out of time because I know everyone’s anxious to see this get done,” Hobbins said.
The time concern is that the current legislative session is rapidly drawing to a close and therefore the Environment and Natural Resources Committee may not be able to hold all the public and work sessions needed to give the proposal due consideration.
At the local level Biddeford officials are keeping mum about any plans to close Maine Energy and move the trash processing from Biddeford to Westbrook instead.
However, Saco Mayor Mark Johnston confirmed that the two cities have been in discussion with Casella “about the future of Maine Energy for the past two months.”
When reached for comment, Biddeford City Council President Rick Laverriere said he could not confirm that discussions are underway for the sale and closure of Maine Energy, despite the public document available from the Legislature.
Representatives from Casella did not respond to multiple requests for comment before deadline.
Meanwhile, at a Biddeford City Council meeting Tuesday, councilors were expected to appoint a negotiating committee, which would discuss another extension of the city’s trash disposal contract with Maine Energy, which burns trash to create electricity.
When he introduced the proposal to close Maine Energy last week, state Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Franklin County, chairman of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, said the idea “marries a number of things that have been issues before this Legislature for a long time.”
Saviello said it’s his understanding that the proposal involves the city of Biddeford purchasing Maine Energy and for the “state to get out of the landfill business” by transferring ownership of the Juniper Ridge facility to Casella, which currently has a 30-year contract to operate it.
When asked by committee members for more specifics, Saviello said, “Casella would close Maine Energy and sell it to the communities.” He did not specify which communities were involved in the sale, but Saco has been at the forefront of previous efforts to close Maine Energy.
The original plan was for the Environment and Natural Resources Committee to meet on the Maine Energy proposal on Tuesday, but that fell through because the committee was tied up with the Aroostook County mining proposal and because the resolution had not yet been made into an official Legislative Document.
Hobbins said the bill is still being drafted, although the title was submitted for consideration by the legislative leadership.
He said it’s unlikely the Environment and Natural Resources Committee could begin work on the Maine Energy proposal until next week or the week after.
Hobbins added that if the bill is not considered during the current session, it could be held over for review or study before the Legislature officially reconvenes early next year.
Included in the proposal now pending before the Environment and Natural Resources Committee is an agreement by Casella to provide single stream, curbside recycling to Biddeford and the payment of a higher per ton waste disposal fee to the town of Old Town where the Juniper Ridge Landfill is located.
If Biddeford ultimately agrees to buy and close the Maine Energy plant, there are other issues the city would have to consider, including the benefits it gets from being the host community for Maine Energy.
Those benefits include having one of the lowest tipping fees in the state, receiving $800,000 in property taxes annually and the electricity the plant produces, which now powers about 20,000 homes and businesses. The plant is also a significant local employer.