Trash on the floor of the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. facility floor in Orrington is shown in this August 2019 photo. State officials are looking into a way for 115 communities to send their trash to PERC if the Hampden waste plant where they normally send their waste remains closed.

State environmental officials are looking for a way for 115 communities now sending their trash to landfills after the recent closure of a Hampden waste plant to instead send it to an Orrington facility that burns waste to create electricity.

It’s not clear when or whether the Coastal Resources of Maine plant in Hampden will reopen after financial and contractual problems forced it to suspend operations at the end of May. In the meantime, the communities that normally send garbage there have instead been required to send it to landfills in Norridgewock and Old Town under the terms of their contracts with the Hampden facility.

A group representing the communities that use the Hampden plant, the Municipal Review Committee, is now trying to line up the financing and workers to help reopen it.

The plant has been working to secure a $14.7 million loan after struggling to bring in revenue during its first six months of commercial operations. A contractor that employs the facility’s staff members and operates the plant has also recently withdrawn from the operation, arguing in a new lawsuit that it’s owed at least $1.2 million.

State officials hope that the plant can work through its financial and management troubles and reopen, given that its underlying technology seems sound and that so many communities rely on it, according to David Burns, director of the waste management bureau at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. His bureau licenses the plant and has been working to ensure that it is following regulations while it is idled.

But if the Hampden plant doesn’t reopen after a month, state officials hope the 115 communities’ waste can be disposed of in a less environmentally damaging manner.

While Maine DEP does not have the authority to order where trash can be sent, Burns said it is working to arrange an alternative for the communities that are now contractually required to landfill their raw waste when the Hampden plant is down. Under state law, landfilling is considered the worst possible way to dispose of waste.

The state has identified the nearby Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. facility in Orrington as having the space and capacity to dispose of that trash in a way that’s considered more favorable under state law: incinerating it to produce power, then sending the ash to a landfill. The communities that now send their waste to the Hampden plant sent their waste to PERC for about three decades until April 2018.

Henry Lang, the plant manager at PERC, said this week that the plant’s owners have been negotiating with the Municipal Review Committee.

Michael Carroll, executive director of the Municipal Review Committee, said that the group is “currently exploring all options” for sending the waste from its member communities to somewhere other than the closed Hampden plant “on a temporary basis.” He added, “this does need to be negotiated because of the legal obligations under the current contract.”

The Municipal Review Committee warned the Hampden plant earlier this month that it is violating its contractual obligations and has 30 days to fix the situation. That violation notice is a step toward the group terminating its contract to have its members send their waste to Coastal Resources.

One reason for the Hampden plant’s financial struggles was that it had been unable to secure the state environmental permits needed to sell off the cellulose pulp and plastic fuel briquettes that it makes from waste. However, earlier this week, plant spokesperson Shelby Wright said Coastal Resources had just obtained those permits at the end of May.