Friday, May 24, 2013
BIDDEFORD – Biddeford's plan to buy and close the Maine Energy Recovery Co. incinerator could take longer than originally anticipated because of required state licensing for a landfill in Old Town.
The MERC incinerator in Biddeford.
Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer
The City Council voted in July to authorize the city to buy the MERC trash-to-energy incinerator for $6.65 million from its owner, Casella Waste Systems Inc. The city plans to close the plant, a longtime source of complaints about odor and noise in downtown Biddeford.
The anticipated closing date for the deal was Nov. 15. But the purchase-and-sale agreement is contingent on licensing that would allow the Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town, operated by Casella Waste Systems, to accept trash that's now processed at MERC.
The state's Bureau of General Services, which owns Juniper Ridge, and Casella submitted an application Sept. 12 to amend the landfill's solid waste license, said Samantha DePoy-Warren, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. The state has until Wednesday to accept the application as complete.
The completion of the application triggers a 20-day period in which people can request a public hearing.
"Because this is an issue of significant statewide public interest and impact, (DEP) Commissioner Patricia Aho had already determined she would be very amenable to a request for a public hearing," DePoy-Warren said. "We have every expectation a request will be submitted."
It is premature for the DEP to speculate when the public hearing will be held, but the entire process will not be complete by Nov. 15, DePoy-Warren said.
The state tries to make the process "very transparent and inclusive," which takes time, she said.
The DEP anticipates a high level of interest in Biddeford and Old Town, so the hearing would be held in the Augusta area, between the two communities.
Biddeford City Manager John Bubier said city officials are more interested in the DEP's response to the application for Juniper Ridge than the time it takes to complete the review.
He said officials didn't anticipate the public hearing when they developed the time line with the Nov. 15 closing date but don't think the delay will derail the deal.
Brian Oliver, vice president of Casella Waste Systems, said officials thought the original time frame to close the deal would be adequate but aren't concerned about the delay.
"We'll just have to do an extension with Biddeford. That won't be an issue," he said.
Aho sent a letter to state and Casella representatives in response to the application, notifying them that the DEP would revisit a ruling Jan. 31 that approved a 9.35 million-cubic-yard expansion at Juniper Ridge. That decision was appealed but later upheld by the Board of Environmental Protection, DePoy-Warren said.
In the letter, Aho said taking waste to Juniper Ridge instead of Biddeford "proposes a material change" in the facts that were the basis for the "public benefit determination."
Aho asked the representatives to contact the DEP staff to discuss the procedure for modifying the determination, but the department has not yet heard from them, DePoy-Warren said.
Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: