HAMPDEN, Maine — A town with a long history of dealing with solid waste from around the state may become the home of a new processing facility that will turn trash into biofuel.
The Municipal Review Committee, a group representing the trash disposal interests of 187 Maine communities, announced at Monday’s Hampden Town Council meeting that it plans to develop a $60 million state-of-the-art solid waste recycling and processing facility in the town’s “triangle” area between Ammo Industrial Park, Interstate 95 and Coldbrook Road.
The proposal must receive a solid waste processing permit from the state and approval from the Hampden Planning Board before proceeding, with a target operational date of 2018.
The Municipal Review Committee announced earlier this year that it planned to get into the trash business and applied to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection for a public benefit determination for a landfill to go along with a planned integrated solid waste, recycling and biofuels processing facility.
The landfill application was denied by the DEP, so the committee’s Hampden project would use existing state-owned landfills.
“The project will be designed for our member communities,” Greg Lounder, Municipal Review Committee executive director, said Monday. “No out-of-state waste will be accepted.”
The group’s proposed garbage-to-energy facility will feature technology from Maryland-based Fiberight that reuses organic materials in trash to make biofuels after the glass, metals, papers and plastics are removed to be sold on the commodities market, Lounder said. The group also is researching using the fibrous material left over from the distilling process to make fuel pellets that can be used for heating.
With the amount of recycling and reuse planned, only about 20 percent of what people throw into their trash bins will make it to a landfill, Lounder said.
Mainers have pulled newspapers, glass, cardboard and No. 2 plastics out of their trash for years, but the statewide recycling rate has been stuck at about 40 percent, so 80 percent efficiency is a significant increase, Lounder said.
“We’ll take recycling to an even higher level for the region,” he said.
Municipal Review Committee officials declined to comment on where the residual waste would be landfilled, but the closest state-owned landfill is Juniper Ridge in Old Town.
The Municipal Review Committee board voted in January to pursue the Fiberight technology for its new facility, which is being planned to replace the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co., a waste-to-energy plant in Orrington where member communities’ trash is sent to be burned and made into electricity.
The Municipal Review Committee is a nonprofit organization formed in 1991 to address the garbage disposal interests of a group of towns that totals 187 communities. The group’s leaders started looking for alternatives five years ago because they believe PERC, of which it is part owner, will not be profitable after 2018, when lucrative agreements for the electric power it generates expire.
“When it became clear we needed a replacement to the incineration done at PERC, we researched technologies that improved recycling and reduced [what goes into landfills],” Lounder said.
The group plans to use revenues from the recyclables and fuel production to offset tipping fees and reduce costs for the group’s communities.
During Monday’s meeting, Lounder said the Municipal Review Committee would own the land and the facility would be built by and operated by Fiberight, so the facility would be taxable. The committee would have oversight of the facility through a landlord-tenant agreement.
Fiberight has a demonstration plant in Lawrenceville, Virginia, that distills municipal solid waste into ethanol, biogas or compressed natural gas. Craig Stuart-Paul, the company’s chief executive, made a presentation to the Municipal Review Committee board in July. He calls the fuel product made from garbage Trashanol, and he has copyrighted the name.
The Municipal Review Committee hired a team of students from the University of Maine at its October meeting to study the Virginia plant to ensure the technology works in the colder climates of Maine.
That report is scheduled to be finished in January.
Paula Clark, the DEP’s solid waste director, said Monday that the proposed Hampden project will need state approval, but she added, “We haven’t reached the point where we’ve sat down with them to determine [what permits will be required].
“It’s very early,” Clark said. “I suspect they’ll be in soon.”
Dean Bennett, Hampden’s economic development director, said the project will have little if any effect on the neighborhood in which it will be located.
The 90,000-square-foot facility, he said, will be built in the middle of a 90-acre parcel zoned for industrial use. The project won’t require a landfill in Hampden, and the entire trash handling process will take place inside the facility, Bennett said.
“The location of this project has been designated as prime commercial/industrial land because of its proximity to transportation corridors and its relative isolation. However, the town has lacked infrastructure and accessibility,” he said. “The MRC project provides both.”
Among other things, the project will open up some of the town’s available land for development because the Municipal Review Committee’s plans call for the construction of a nearly mile-long road at no cost to the town, Bennett said. The access road, along with the infrastructure that would come with it, represents a $2 million investment, he said.
Lounder said the infrastructure would include such utilities as water, sewer, electrical and telecommunication lines.
Bennett also noted that the project comes with some host community perks, including revenue in the form of payments in lieu of taxes.
During Monday’s meeting, Lounder noted that the project would generate about $700,000 per year in new property tax revenues for the town. Hampden and the Municipal Review Committee also will negotiate a host community benefit package that may offset some of the town’s disposal costs, which amount to about $200,000 a year.
Municipal Review Committee officials declined to say how many jobs the project will generate but indicated that they would be “good” jobs.
Hampden resident and businessman Rich Armstrong was among at least 20 people who attended the meeting. He said the project was good economic development news for Hampden.
“The timing is good. It’s almost Christmas so it’s kind of like a present so I’m really excited about the news. It’s almost amazing,” he said.
Armstrong did, however, have questions.
As president of the local snowmobile club, he noted that the proposed facility could interfere with the use of ITS 82, part of the state’s snowmobile trail system.
“It’s something we’ll be mindful of and we’ll make every effort to accommodate them,” Lounder said.
Armstrong also asked how much additional traffic the facility would generate and if a new traffic light would be required.
Lounder said the facility likely would generate fewer than 100 trips over the course of an entire day but it wasn’t yet clear if a new signal would be required because the site was “a relatively good fit from a transportation standpoint.”
Fiberight also still needs to come up with the necessary financing, Lounder said.
“I understand they are off to a great start,” he said.
Lounder also said planners would look at whether nearby recreational fields may need to be moved.
Town Councilor Ivan McPike asked what would happen if the project does not come to pass.
Lounder said there was an offer by PERC in 2011 to continue processing waste at its Orrington plant at a cost of $110 a ton, which is at least twice what towns are currently paying.
“I frankly don’t see an economically viable way of running the plant at $110 [per ton] so if we’re unable to secure an alternative solution, the town [of Hampden], along with all of the other communities in our region, is going to face a steep rate hike.
“There’s also potential, if we cannot find a way to secure processing and improved recycling in this area, we may be left with no choice but to landfill [municipal solid waste] directly. A landfill under the control of others in a very limited marketplace, I expect, would lead to a very high increase for local property tax increases,” he said.
Hampden’s experience with regard to solid waste has been rocky.
The town once was the final destination for the region’s trash, as well as waste from outside Maine. The former Pine Tree Landfill operated for 35 years before it stopped accepting waste in June 2010.
Called the Sawyer Environmental Recovery Facility when it opened in 1975, the Hampden landfill originally had no liner, and there were no environmental regulations to monitor gas emissions.
Neighbors complained about the stench coming from the landfill, trash fires, damage to the environment and heavy truck traffic, among other things. Other concerns included allowing out-of-state waste to be dumped in Hampden, which Municipal Review Committee said will not occur at the proposed Hampden facility.
In the 1980s and 1990s, when shifts in state policy resulted in the closure of hundreds of small municipal landfills, the need for larger facilities such as Pine Tree grew.
Casella Waste Systems bought the facility in 1996. The company applied to expand the landfill’s capacity in 1998, and the state approved the expansion, but the town said it violated zoning laws.
Casella sued the town, a case that made it all the way to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court and resulted in a reversal of the town’s decision.
When Casella tried to expand again in 2005, DEP denied the request, thanks in part to the work of the Hampden Citizens’ Coalition, which helped negotiate a deal to close the landfill.
The former landfill was converted to a $10 million gas-to-energy extraction facility — the first of its kind in Maine — consisting of a network of wells and pipes that collects methane gas produced by decomposing waste within the landfill. That gas is then transferred to an extraction plant where it is scrubbed of contaminants and used to power generators that make electricity.
Bennett said the Municipal Review Committee’s project would be different.
“It’s a processing facility. It’s not a landfill,” he said. “Trash in, trash out, and [what is left is] taken to a landfill [elsewhere in Maine]. … It’s just processed — 100 percent goes in,  percent comes out. Everything else is processed into biofuel or something else that’s useful, in short.”