November 2, 2012

MERC closing incinerator in Biddeford

The company plans to process waste at a new Westbrook facility then haul it to an Old Town landfill.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Maine Energy Recovery Co. will close its incinerator in Biddeford by the end of this year and shift waste processing to a new facility in Westbrook as it seeks approval to send trash to a landfill in Old Town.

click image to enlarge

An April 4, 2012, photo of the Maine Energy Recovery Company in downtown Biddeford. The plant is sited in the city's sprawling mill complex along the Saco River and has been operating in the city since 1986.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

Casella Waste Systems, the Vermont-based parent company of MERC, gave 60-day notice this week to its 75 employees in Biddeford, saying it will cease operations there by Dec. 31.

The Biddeford City Council voted in July to buy the property for $6.65 million. Joe Fusco, vice president of Casella, said he expects the sale to be complete around Nov. 15.

The process of dismantling the waste-to-energy incinerator will begin soon after the closure.

MERC has long been a source of complaints about odor and noise, and its removal will help stimulate economic development, say city officials.

Casella's long-term plan is to process trash in Westbrook and bury it at the Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town. It first needs state licensing to allow Juniper Ridge to accept waste that's now processed in Biddeford.

While that issue is pending with the Department of Environmental Protection, trash will be processed in Westbrook before being sent to other Casella facilities, Fusco said.

He said the transfer station is being built in Westbrook and will be complete by the end of December. MERC employees who lose their jobs in Biddeford will be given first consideration for positions in Westbrook, Fusco said.

Casella is confident that it will receive the licensing it needs to send waste that originates in Maine to Juniper Ridge, Fusco said.

The state's Bureau of General Services, which owns Juniper Ridge, and Casella, which operates the landfill, submitted an application in September to amend the solid waste permit.

The application triggered a 20-day period in which people could request a public hearing. Six parties did so, said Samantha DePoy-Warren, spokeswoman for the DEP.

The hearing will be held early next year in the Augusta area -- between Old Town and Biddeford, DePoy-Warren said.

The DEP also is accepting public comment. As of this week, it had received more than 100 letters, from city officials, organizations, companies and individuals from Biddeford to Old Town.

Ed Spencer of Old Town, who requested a public hearing, said in a letter that the DEP should reject the application because "it involves a wholesale breach of our state waste hierarchy," which puts landfills at the bottom among waste handling options.

Robert Quattrone, who works at MERC, submitted a letter urging rejection of the application because "Casella's application is trying to circumvent the state's hierarchy by taking out waste-to-energy facilities."

Letters received in support of the application focus mainly on the potential for economic revival in Biddeford and Saco.

"For 30 years, Biddeford-Saco has served communities from all over the region by allowing trash to be trucked to the center of town. While we have welcomed taking on the responsibility of solving trash issues for the region, the result has been to depress the region and prevent real economic growth from occurring in an area that is ripe for growth," wrote Guy Gagnon, executive director of the Biddeford Housing Authority.

Among the supporters of the application are recycling and waste handling companies. John Doherty, president of Aggregate Recycling Corp. in Eliot, said expanding capacity at Juniper Ridge would be "a substantial public benefit to all Mainers."

A letter from Westbrook Mayor Colleen Hilton and other officials says the city will "benefit greatly" from Casella's $4 million investment in the new transfer station.

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham@mainetoday.com

Twitter: grahamgillian

 

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