SOMESVILLE, Sept. 10, 2020 – If you’re still dutifully sorting your garbage – paper, plastics, cardboard, glass, trash – and taking it to the dump at Southwest Harbor where the bins look their taxonomical selves, you’re wasting your time. The towns on MDI have not had recycling since May.
All our garbage have been hauled to an incinerator in Orrington and indiscriminately burned.
“It’s not a pretty picture,” said Carey Donovan, who represents Tremont in the Acadia Disposal District, a consortium of Cranberry Island, Tremont, Mount Desert, Frenchboro and Trenton which concerns itself with ecologically beneficial ways to dispose trash.
In late May, the $90 million Taj Mahal waste plant of the future, aka Coastal Resource of Maine, closed after only a few months of operations. The network of 115 towns known as Municipal Review Committee (MRC) had supported the charismatic Craig Stuart-Paul, the founder and CEO of its parent company, Fiberight, which built the plant for $90 million. It now lies dormant.
In a nutshell, the promises exceeded reality. “It was unproven technology,” said one businessman headquartered next to the plant in Hampden. On top of that, the biggest market for our recycled refuse – China – said it would not take any more of our garbage.
It was quite a different story a year ago when the plant was coming on line – one year behind schedule. There were prodigious photo ops. Politicians lusted after the propinquity of a winner – to show the rest of the country that Maine’s was leading the way on developing futuristic waste disposing technology.
Sen. Susan Collins jumped on the bandwagon before the plant was fully operational. With news cameras in tow, she toured the plant last September and told reporters she was extremely impressed and expected more states to follow Maine’s lead and open similar operations. Stuart-Paul couldn’t have asked for better free marketing.
Six months later the plant would be in receivership, with bondholders facing the specter of getting pennies on the dollar.
As recently as January, Stuart-Jones was telling the 115-town consortium that the plant was hiring more workers to handle new customers.
In June the Bangor Daily News ran a comprehensive history of the plant’s troubles. https://bangordailynews.com/2020/06/22/news/bangor/heres-what-went-wrong-at-the-shuttered-90m-trash-processing-plant-in-hampden/
When the plant closed, the consortium of 115 towns returned to the incineration plant in Orrington which it used for 30 years. Some towns hauled their garbage to a landfill in Norridgewock, a town half way between Bangor and Augusta. The consortium pays $60 a ton for the 400 tons of garbage it produces a day. The incineration plant was happy to take that windfall.
Where does it leave us?
About a half dozen companies have expressed interest in taking over management of the plant. Presumably that would involve some kind of financial restructuring, with original investors taking a bath. Then there are operational issues. The plant never achieved 100 percent of its goals. Even if it re-opens, it may operate in parts. Lastly, there are questions about whether markets for paper pulp and other recycled products are sustainable.
Meanwhile, our garbage is being burned, and while incineration facilities like to claim they produce renewable energy, “this is quite a stretch,” said Tremont’s Carey Donovan. “The amount of energy produced is way less than the amount of energy it took to produce, manufacture, and transport all the goods they are burning.”
“It is only ‘renewable’ in the sense that our country produces a vast amount of waste, and this waste stream keeps coming their way.”