The sorting equipment at Fiberight's now shutered 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 representing the towns and cities that sent their waste to a now-shuttered Hampden trash plant is looking for state and federal funds so it can wrest control of the facility from the out-of-state financiers who funded its construction.

The Municipal Review Committee’s search for public money marks the latest stage in the struggle to revive the dormant waste plant that shut down in May 2020 due to a lack of money after just six months of full operations.

The Municipal Review Committee owns the land on which the plant sits, but out-of-state investment funds that floated the bonds to pay for the facility’s construction have the ultimate authority to sell it.

Earlier this winter, those bondholders reportedly never acted on an offer to buy the facility from a prospective buyer who was never identified. That offer is no longer on the table, said Karen Fussell, president of the Municipal Review Committee board and finance director for the city of Brewer.

Before that, a Pennsylvania company, Delta Thermo Energy, had the exclusive right to purchase the plant, but lost it last August when it missed multiple deadlines to prove it had the financing in place to complete the transaction.

Now, the Municipal Review Committee wants the bondholders out of the picture, and is looking into options to become the owner or a partial owner of the plant. In addition to seeking government funding in the form of grants or loans, the group is considering legal action to wrest control of the facility from the bondholders, Fussell said.

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“The MRC is very close to pursuing other action through the courts to get this facility away from the bondholders,” she said.

The group laid out the options for members in a meeting on Wednesday that included representatives from nearly two-thirds of the group’s membership in a closed-door session.

Fussell said the group will consider legal action if it doesn’t come to an agreement with the bondholders within the next week on a path for moving forward.

In the nearly two years since the trash plant’s closure, waste from the 115 communities that belong to the Municipal Review Committee has gone either to the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. incinerator in Orrington, Crossroads Landfill in Norridgewock or Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town.

Additionally, many communities cut their local recycling programs in advance of the Hampden plant’s opening, initially because the new plant promised to remove recyclable materials from loads of trash. That means recyclables are included in the loads of trash hauled to landfills or the Orrington incinerator.

The Municipal Review Committee communities will have to move beyond those temporary disposal arrangements if a sale of the Hampden facility isn’t in the works by this summer, Fussell said. That would mean establishing new waste disposal agreements for all of the towns, cities and waste disposal districts that make up the group’s membership.

“There are really not very good options in this region,” Fussell said. “But the bottom line is that people don’t want to be sending waste to a landfill. Our members don’t want their waste going to a landfill.” 

Sawyer Loftus is an investigative reporter at the Bangor Daily News. A graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he worked for Vermont Public Radio, The Burlington Free Press...