WESTBROOK – Casella Waste Systems expects to have its new trash transfer facility in Westbrook up and running by the end of the year, when it will close the controversial incinerator it owns in downtown Biddeford.
Joe Fusco, spokesman for Casella Waste Systems, confirmed this week that all union employees at Maine Energy Recovery Co. received their 60-day notices on Monday, and “the last day of operations” is scheduled to be Dec. 31.
He said he was not sure if any employees from the Biddeford plant would be transferred to Westbrook, but said “a number of people” would remain at the Maine Energy Recovery Co. facility to oversee its shutdown. In July, the company had 76 employees.
The Westbrook facility has long been in the works. Casella received approval for a waste collection and processing facility at the site on Nov. 7, 2000, and then for a modified project on Feb. 15, 2005. After a delay, the company received another site plan approval on March 17, 2009, which also expired before construction began. Earlier this year, the company brought the project back before the Planning Board and received a approval for a new site plan, which does not include a trash processing facility.
The announcement of the closure of the Biddeford facility follows a vote in July by the City Council there to purchase the almost 30-year-old incinerator from Casella for $6.65 million. The original deal called for the city and Casella to hold the closing no later than Nov. 15, when the city’s first payment of $150,000 would be due.
Under the sale agreement, Biddeford would pay Casella an additional $200,000 in November 2014 and then $350,000 annually through 2032.
The city also signed agreements with Casella to provide curbside recycling, starting July 1, 2013, and for Casella to continue to handle Biddeford’s municipal solid waste at the new Westbrook facility for $55 per ton over the next 10 years.
To make this all happen, though, Casella must be able to bury the municipal solid waste processed in Westbrook at the state-owned Juniper Ridge landfill in Old Town, which requires a license from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
Because this proposal has “been the subject of considerable public interest,” according to a letter issued on Oct. 24 by Patricia Aho, commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, a public hearing will be held on the license request, likely sometime next year.
The Department of Environmental Protection solicited public comment on the solid waste license during the late summer and fall, and by the Oct. 23 deadline, Aho’s office had received nearly 100 letters regarding the proposal to close Maine Energy, according to the department’s website.
Those letters came from all across the state, as well as from individuals and the cities of Saco and Westbrook.
Fusco said Casella was “working hard” to get the Westbrook facility up and running by the end of the year, as well as getting the required license from the Department of Environmental Protection. He said the company is “confident (this proposal) will work out in the long run.”
Discussing the project in July, Westbrook City Administrator Jerre Bryant said the County Road transfer station would generate “significant truck traffic,” though the number of trucks coming into Westbrook will be fewer than have gone into Biddeford.
City Engineer Eric Dudley said at that time that for the most part the only trucks coming into Westbrook would be regular municipal trash trucks, which will unload waste in Westbrook to be transferred to larger trucks to be taken to the Juniper Ridge landfill in Old Town.
Bryant did say the County Road facility is “going to be a significant hub of activity,” though he didn’t think it would have a major impact on most of the city, as the land is in an industrial zone “with good access both on and off the turnpike,” he said.
While the Westbrook facility gets going, Fusco said, Casella would dispose of the municipal waste from Biddeford, and about a dozen other communities in southern Maine that contract with Maine Energy, at the company’s various facilities throughout New England.
“We have disposal options throughout the company and we will take care of our customers,” Fusco said, even if Casella had received the go-ahead to take trash to Juniper Ridge by the end of the year.
John Bubier, Biddeford’s city manager, said the sale of Maine Energy likely would go forward as planned, despite Casella not having its solid waste license in hand.
“We don’t know that the sale won’t go through in November,” he said. “I’m not prepared to say it won’t happen on Nov. 15. Our biggest concern is ensuring we have a way of dealing with our waste while (the Department of Environmental Protection and Casella) are still discussing (the license.).”
Bubier also said that Casella is making business decisions, which are separate from its contracts with the city of Biddeford and which have led the company to close Maine Energy before the time required by the purchase and sale agreement.
“Everything I’m seeing indicates they’re trying to work this out and make sure the Westbrook facility is on line by the end of the year,” he added. “My understanding of the (licensing public hearing) is that it’s more related to the Department of Environmental Protection’s process and the potential impact on other facilities.”