The sorting equipment at Fiberight's new plant in Hampden -- a facility that it calls Coastal Resources of Maine -- removes items that it can sell on the recycling market before converting the remaining waste into biofuel and other materials. Credit: Courtesy of Fiberight

The group that oversees waste disposal for more than 100 Maine communities did not want to sell a Hampden trash plant to a Pennsylvania company whose CEO embellished his business’ track record.

The leadership of the Municipal Review Committee had ranked Delta Thermo Energy last among three companies proposing to purchase the shuttered Coastal Resources of Maine plant in Hampden, Karen Fussell, the board’s president, said in a committee meeting this week.

But the bondholders that funded the plant’s construction and control its sale went ahead with the first steps of selling to the Pennsylvania company anyway, Fussell said. An agreement reached with Delta Thermo in December 2020 gave the company the exclusive right to purchase the facility.

Delta Thermo Energy CEO Rob Van ​​Naarden mischaracterized his company’s domestic and foreign work in public meetings after reaching the agreement. His company also lists multiple people on an advisory board on its website without their permission. One supposed board member said he had never heard of the company.

The Municipal Review Committee’s misgivings about Delta Thermo came down to the group’s desire to avoid a repeat of the Coastal Resources plant’s May 2020 closure due to the company’s inability to pay its bills, Mike Carroll, the committee’s executive director, said Thursday.

“We wanted a buyer with adequate funding and a commitment to investing in the improvements needed at the plant,” Carroll said. “We did not see that in our research or in DTE’s initial plan.”

The Municipal Review Committee voiced its concerns about Delta Thermo to the bondholders through their trustee, the U.S. Bank National Association, Carroll said. The committee also shared local media coverage with the trustee, he said. The Bangor Daily News had published numerous pieces highlighting Van Naarden’s misrepresentation of his company’s past work.

The Municipal Review Committee spent numerous hours negotiating in “a good-faith effort” to sell to Delta Thermo, but the company didn’t fulfill its side of the bargain, Fussell said.

After continuously failing to show evidence of financing for months, Delta Thermo in August lost its exclusive right to purchase the plant.

“After months of missed deadlines and broken promises, the MRC finally said enough and revoked DTE’s exclusivity,” Fussell said.

While the Municipal Review Committee owns the land on which the plant sits, the ultimate authority to sell it belongs to the plant’s bondholders, several investment funds located outside of Maine.

The bondholders are still hopeful that Delta Thermo will purchase the plant, Fussell said. However, the Municipal Review Committee has made it clear it has no interest in giving the Pennsylvania company the keys to a plant that was processing trash from more than 100 towns and cities.

“The MRC’s moved on,” Fussell said.

The Municipal Review Committee is now in talks with a new company interested in buying the plant, though it has not publicly revealed the company’s identity.

That company has given its final offer to the bondholder trustee. But the U.S. Bank National Association has not responded to the Municipal Review Committee’s inquiries about it, something Fussell said was disappointing.

Fussell’s remarks in Wednesday’s meeting were part of a more extensive defense of the Municipal Review Committee amid accusations it had not thoroughly vetted Delta Thermo Energy before signing an exclusivity agreement.

The sale of the plant, she said, had been hindered by the bondholders’ inaction and the complex legal system under which they control the plant’s destiny, said Fussell, who is also Brewer’s finance director.

“We’ve heard a bit of frustration out there about how we are not doing enough to reopen the facility, or that we are not transparent,” she said. “To that, I say, ‘The MRC and its volunteer board has never worked harder for its members, and the future of waste disposal in this region, than we have over the last two years.’”

Even after it lost the exclusive right to purchase the plant, Delta Thermo continued to have a staff member on site until last month, Van Naarden said on Nov. 29.

The Municipal Review Committee last month said that Delta Thermo didn’t pay expenses it was expected to to keep the plant in working condition over the winter.

“Why should we pay for anything while the MRC negotiated with another party while we were paying expenses?” Van Naarden said.

Van Naarden also rebutted the Municipal Review Committee’s claims. He said his staff inquired about the utility bills for which it was responsible and never received responses.

Though the Municipal Review Committee appeared to voice qualms privately, the group broadcast a united front in public meetings up until around eight months after the exclusivity agreement was signed.

When Van Naarden and committee leaders were asked about a BDN article in April that revealed Delta Thermo had listed advisers on its website without their permission and likely mischaracterized its overseas work, they demurred.  

Fussell said, “we have no comment,” and said she didn’t know what the questioner was referring to.

However, as months passed without a deal, and the Municipal Review Committee says Delta Thermo continuously failed to meet deadlines to show evidence of financing, the relationship publicly soured.

Van Naarden was scheduled to make his third appearance in a town hall meeting in August, but it was canceled because the U.S. Bank and the Municipal Review Committee agreed it was not appropriate for him to speak when he hadn’t shown evidence of financing.

Even in that meeting, Fussell said Delta Thermo was “very far along” in purchasing the plant, though committee board members had made it clear to the company that their patience was wearing thin.

Though it led to eight months of negotiations that appear to have been fruitless, Carroll said he still didn’t see the agreement with Delta Thermo as a mistake — and that the company would have been held accountable if it followed through with the purchase.

The Municipal Review Committee had added several provisions to that agreement to give the committee leverage and protect its member communities due to concerns about Delta Thermo, Carroll said. Those included requirements that the Municipal Review Committee approve Delta Thermo’s operating plan and that the company have local management on the ground. The committee also insisted on an operating bond to ensure future financing.