By Edward D. Murphy firstname.lastname@example.org
BIDDEFORD – The city is planning to purchase and close the downtown Maine Energy trash-to-energy incinerator, a deal that city officials say will remove a major roadblock for development.
City officials said they recently concluded about six months of negotiations with Maine Energy to buy the plant, financed over 20 years. The facility woiuld be be demolished within a year of the closing date of Nov. 15, assuming all conditions are met, including an environmental assessment of the site. For years, Biddeford residents and city officials have complained about the smell of garbage being trucked downtown from Biddeford and surrounding communities, as well as the smoke generated by the incineration. They said developers have been interested in redeveloping adjacent mill buildings, but the problems associated with the plant have scared off potential investors. "Controlling this space is really critical to Biddeford's future," Mayor Alan Casavant said Thursday afternoon, when city officials announced the deal. Buying the plant means "rejecting the stigma and really rewriting the whole storyline." Money for the payments, which begin at $150,000 a year and climb to $350,000 annually, will come from leases of cell phone towers attached to the incinerator's smoke stack, as well as money generated from a special taxing district that includes a major retail center near the Maine Turnpike and a downtown mill district. If approved by the city council next month, the city would close on the purchase of the building on Nov 15. The agreement calls for Maine Energy to stop operations at the plant within six months of the purchase date and to demolish all of the facility except for the main stack within a year. Maine Energy would pay for the demolition and cleaning the main stack. Biddeford’s waste would be trucked to a new facility that is expected to be built soon in Westbrook by Casella Waste Systems Inc., the parent company of Maine Energy. Biddeford also plans to contract with Pine Tree Waste to begin a curbside recycling program next July. Because of the presence of Maine Energy, Biddeford currently has only a minimal recycling program. City officials believe curbside recycling will more than offset the higher cost of truck waste to Westbrook -- $55 a ton versus $47 a ton now – by increasing its recycling effort. Residents currently recycle about 7 percent of the waste generated in the city, but officials said curbside recycling should more than quadruple that amount. The city council is expected to hold a public hearing on the proposal on Tuesday, July 3. A final vote is scheduled for July 31.