HAMPDEN, Maine — The Maine Department of Environmental Protection on Thursday issued the three permits needed for the Municipal Review Committee’s Fiberight waste processing plant in Hampden, marking what officials termed a “milestone” in the development of the project.

The MRC is working with Maryland-based Fiberight LLC on a proposed $69 million facility in Hampden to turn trash into biofuel and recycle other materials.

The DEP issued final Solid Waste, Air Emissions and Stormwater Management and Natural Resources Protection Act permits for the planned waste-to-energy plant proposed for the “triangle” area between Ammo Industrial Park, Interstate 95 and Coldbrook Road.

“Congratulations on reaching this important milestone,” David Burns, project manager of the division of Technical Services, Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management, stated in a cover letter posted with the solid waste permit.

“The department reviews every application thoroughly and strives to formulate reasonable conditions of approval within the context of the department’s environmental laws,” Burns states later in the letter, stressing MRC and Fiberight review the conditions.

The solid waste permit lists 12 conditions, including monthly reports, providing an updated operations manual before opening and a bat survey, among other items.

“We are delighted to have our state permits in hand,” Craig Stuart-Paul, Fiberight’s CEO, said in the news release. “This puts us one step further to realizing the type of waste diversion and recycling experienced in hundreds of advanced waste processing plants in Europe, a solution that the U.S. has been slow to adopt. Maine has long held a special respect for its environment, and the state is leading the way in environmentally beneficial solid waste management with its approval of our permits.”

Fiberight anticipates it will complete the engineering and financing for the project later this summer, with construction and commissioning running through 2017, Stuart-Paul said.

The MRC board voted in 2014 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 send trash to be burned and made into electricity.

The MRC 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.

“With this critical milestone achieved, we are confident that we will be ready to accept and recycle Maine’s waste long before our deadline of April 2018,” Stuart-Paul said.

PERC is competing with MRC-Fiberight to continue meeting the long-term trash disposal needs of the Maine cities and towns it currently serves via a new partnership it formed last year.

Maine Waste Processing LLC is a partnership among PERC; Casella Waste Systems, which currently handles what waste is left over after incineration at Juniper Ridge Landfill; Exeter Agri-Energy, a renewable energy company that converts animal and food waste into electricity and will take on organic waste; and WasteZero, which will handle recyclable materials.

Not everyone was pleased with the DEP’s decision to issue the permits for the Hampden plant.

“We are extremely disappointed in Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s handling of Fiberight’s application,” Sarah Lakeman, sustainable projects coordinator for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said in a news release. “There are powerful grounds for an appeal of these licenses.”

The Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Environment and Natural Resource Committee of the Legislature, engineers, attorneys, Maine citizens and others contend that the facility fails to align with the state’s solid waste management hierarchy licensing criteria, and there is incomplete and troubling information regarding the technical and financial ability of the applicants.

“In addition to our bewilderment of DEP’s decision, we find it inappropriate and unprecedented that DEP would congratulate the applicant multiple times in their cover letter,” Lakeman said later. “That is not the role of a regulating agency.”

As of Monday, the MRC had secured contracts for 100,218 tons of waste annually for the new Hampden facility from at least 104 communities. Conversely, PERC had secured 22,055 tons annually.

“With the final permits in hand, the MRC and Fiberight are moving forward with the next phases of this project including financial close, site acquisition and construction,” Greg Lounder, executive director of MRC, said in an email about the permits.

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See which MRC towns have made a decision about where to send their trash post-2018.

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