The new majority owner of a shuttered Hampden waste facility says that it has enough funding and experience to get the plant restarted in the next year-and-a-half.
That facility closed three years ago in part because it couldn’t secure enough funding to get it through a difficult start-up period. Other challenges included changes in the recycling markets, the COVID pandemic, and delays in getting permits to resell products it made from waste.
But a firm called Innovative Resource Recovery is buying the shuttered facility for $3 million, and CEO James Condela says it’s expecting to invest another $35 million to $40 million to re-open it.
The company was specifically formed to develop waste processing facilities, starting with the restart of the one in Hampden, and it’s backed by an investment firm called White Oak Global Advisors that has $10 billion under management, according to Condela. He says the fact that the facility is already permitted and equipped with relatively new infrastructure made it an appealing investment to White Oak.
“They are familiar with these types of situations,” he said. “Obviously the Hampden facility kind of has a long and storied past that a lot of middle of the road private equity firms would view as challenging. It has challenges in operations. There’s complexity to it. But I think White Oak Global Advisors – kind of working with them over the last six-plus months – has really embraced the opportunity.”
Innovative expects the Hampden plant to be fully up-and-running by early 2025.
A group representing 115 Maine communities called the Municipal Review Committee still owns a minority share of the facility. The MRC has worked with several groups to try to restart the plant, and its communities have been forced to burn or bury much of their trash since it closed.
That has set back the state’s recycling efforts, sending roughly 90,000 tons of household trash to landfills or an incinerator in each of the last two reporting years, according to state waste data.
Karen Fussell, president of the MRC board, says the Hampden operation is more essential than ever because a nearby incinerator in Orrington recently stopped accepting trash to generate electricity because of its own financial troubles.
“There’s no other options for waste in this region other than landfilling, and we know our members don’t want that,” Fussell said. “The general public doesn’t want that. The state certainly doesn’t want that, and so we’re thrilled to even have an opportunity in front of us to reopen the facility.”
While the plant’s been down, the MRC has had to spend millions in reserve funds to take care of the facility and handle the transition. But it hopes to start recouping that investment with lease payments it will start receiving for the land on which the plant sits, and other fees it will start receiving to help manage some parts of the operation, according to Fussell.
The $90-million plant was previously owned by private investors and a company called Fiberight that helped develop some of its technology, but the MRC acquired it after it shut down.
It was designed to repurpose at least half of the waste it received in a variety of ways, including traditional recycling and manufacturing secondary materials such as cellulose fiber for papermaking; plastic fuel pellets; and a form of natural gas from organic materials.
Condela says that Innovative Resource Recovery will primarily focus on traditional recycling and natural gas generation as it works to restart the plant. It may try to develop the plastic pellets later on, he says, but in order to simplify the process, it’ll abandon the pulping operation and instead combine paper fiber materials in the digester that produces natural gas.
While the company is primarily focused on resuming services for MRC towns and cities, he hopes the facility can eventually accept waste from more businesses and municipalities, and also accept additional types of waste that may not be easy to recycle.
“The 115 communities provide somewhere between 60-70 percent of the capacity of the plant and obviously our goal is to run the plant at full capacity,” he says. “Maine is an interesting market: there are very few disposal options in the market today for waste and our goal is to help maintain the longevity of those by taking material out of the landfill in the first place.”
This story appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.