Robert Van Naarden, center, CEO of Delta Thermo Energy, is seated at a borough council meeting in Muncy, Pennsylvania in 2016. The Pennsylvania company is now in negotiations to purchase the waste plant in Hampden that has been closed since May 2020. Credit: Courtesy of Williamsport Sun-Gazette

The group representing more than 100 Maine communities in negotiations to sell a shuttered Hampden trash plant defended its “due diligence” this week in investigating the plant’s prospective buyer following Bangor Daily News reports that the company’s CEO mischaracterized his business’ past work.

The Municipal Review Committee said Tuesday in an email to members that it had “conducted its due diligence contacting municipal officials and regulators in New Jersey and Pennsylvania” about Delta Thermo Energy’s past operations.

Delta Thermo has listed technical advisers on its website without their knowledge or permission and taken credit for developing a waste processing facility in Japan in which it had no part, the BDN has found. In addition, CEO Rob Van Naarden has said the company runs a test facility in Pennsylvania for which no records exist.

MRC Executive Director Michael Carroll said Thursday that the Municipal Review Committee had contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Atlantic County Utilities Authority in New Jersey about Delta Thermo projects. He was able to provide little information about Delta Thermo’s test facility, except to say that Van Naarden “has said it’s operating in the central PA town of Williamsport.”

Delta Thermo has been negotiating to purchase the $90 million Coastal Resources of Maine plant in Hampden for several months, with a deal expected by the end of June. The plant has been shut down since last May after the previous operator, Fiberight, struggled to pay its bills.

The Municipal Review Committee’s inquiries in Pennsylvania were about Delta Thermo’s planned waste-to-energy plant in Allentown that never materialized, Carroll said. That plant was nixed by the city in 2014, and the FBI later requested documents from Delta Thermo as part of an investigation into corruption in Allentown. Neither Delta Thermo nor Van Naarden faced charges, but former Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski drew a 15-year federal prison sentence in 2018 for corruption.

When the city of Allentown canceled the Delta Thermo project in 2014, city solicitor Jerry Snyder wrote in a letter that the company had “consistently failed to advance” plans for the facility. City officials were also concerned the company had not lined up financing.

In a January interview with the BDN, Van Naarden called Snyder’s accusations “completely false,” and tied the decision to scrap the deal to city hall corruption. On Thursday, Carroll echoed that viewpoint, saying the facility went unbuilt because of “internal upheaval” in Allentown’s municipal government.

Carroll said the Municipal Review Committee reported its Allentown findings to the Coastal Resources of Maine plant’s bondholders, who provided $52 million for the Hampden plant’s construction and have the authority to sell the facility. They decided to continue with the sale to Delta Thermo, Carroll said.

The Municipal Review Committee also spoke to Atlantic County Utilities Authority senior analyst Greg Seher in September 2020, Carroll said. Delta Thermo ran a demonstration project for its technology at the authority’s Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, facility from 2012 to 2013, Seher told the BDN in March — though Van Naarden has said his company ran the demonstration project there for three years.

Delta Thermo’s project demonstrated that its technology was successful, and the authority would have hosted a larger project from the company if not for the belief that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection would deny the required permits, Seher said. The Municipal Review Committee found similar reasons for why a larger plant was not built at the authority, Carroll said.

As for Delta Thermo’s Pennsylvania test facility, Carroll only referred to statements from Van Naarden in response to a question from the BDN about where it was located.

Van Naarden spoke about the facility in a January interview with the BDN as well as during Municipal Review Committee meetings in January and April, though he didn’t specify that it was a test project in either of those public appearances.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has no permits on file for such a test facility, which would need permits for emissions and wastewater discharge to operate. An official at the tax assessor’s office for Lycoming County, where Williamsport is located, said it had no properties listed as being owned by Delta Thermo Energy or “DTE.” (The company’s Maine business entity is called DTE-HM.)

While Carroll said that Van Naarden has said the facility is in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Van Naarden described it as being in North Central Pennsylvania “just outside of Williamsport,” in a Municipal Review Committee meeting on April 28.