Waste at the Coastal Resources of Maine facility in Hampden on a conveyor belt heading towards a trommel, which separates materials by size and weight. Credit: Sam Schipani / BDN

Taxpayers in the 115 communities that relied on a shuttered waste processing plant in Hampden may have to foot the $20 million bill to restart the facility that’s been closed almost two years.

The price tag reflects the cost of reopening a facility that ran for about six months before closing if the group that represents the 115 communities — the Municipal Review Committee — becomes the owner when a round of bids closes at the end of June.

During a town hall meeting Wednesday, Municipal Review Committee board members outlined what ownership of the Hampden trash plant could look like. If the municipal group became its owner, it would have to raise about $20 million to restart operations.

The trash plant has remained dormant since May 2020, when it shut down after it ran out of funds. 

The Municipal Review Committee initially explored state and federal funding as well as loans to secure startup funds. Now, however, the best option would be for the group’s members to step up and fund the facility if they become its owner, said Karen Fussell, the committee’s board president.

“In the end, the MRC feels, with all options being equal, the approach that would best serve our members would be for the MRC to be the sole owner of the facility,” she said.

The arrangement would give the committee’s members full control of the plant and how it’s used.

“In short, we would be the masters of our own destiny in that case,” Fussell said.

Currently, the Municipal Review Committee only owns the land off Coldbrook Road on which the Hampden trash plant sits. The out-of-state financiers — largely investment funds — that funded the facility’s construction have the power to sell it. Those bondholders reached an agreement with the Municipal Review Committee earlier this year that dictates the facility be sold by the end of June

As part of that plan, the Municipal Review Committee submitted a stalking horse bid to buy the facility, which is the last-ditch option the bondholders will have to accept if no other better, qualified offers come in, Fussell said.

The committee’s stalking horse bid is $1.5 million, a fraction of the more than $50 million the bondholders put up to fund construction.

While the municipal group has funds on hand to purchase the facility at that price, it’ll need to look elsewhere for the funds to restart and run the facility.

The group had nearly $12 million in assets at the end of last year, according to a January report.

The committee’s member towns, cities and waste districts could directly loan money toward the operation, or sign onto future loans, Fussell said. Those co-signers would be responsible in the case of a loan default.

For either option, participating municipalities would likely need to secure local approval, Fussell said. Plus, no member of the Municipal Review Committee would be required to help fund the venture, she said.

The committee should know by mid- to late May if there are qualified bidders for the facility. If it looks as if the Municipal Review Committee will become the facility’s new owner, the group would begin talking to municipalities about potential funding, Fussell said. 

So far, eight potential bidders have expressed interest in the facility since the sale process opened, said Michael Carroll, the Municipal Review Committee’s executive director. 

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Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is a reporter covering Old Town, Orono and the surrounding areas. A recent graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he's worked for Vermont Public Radio, The...