Several people in Biddeford and Saco have spent the past 25 years fighting, hoping and waiting for the Maine Energy waste incinerator to close, but there were no fireworks when the Biddeford City Council made its historic 8-1 vote Tuesday on an agreement to shut it down and purchase the land.

Aside from the applause and a few scattered “woo-hoos” from Biddeford Mayor Emeritus Joanne Twomey, the small crowd that attended the quick vote was mostly silent. There was no dancing in the aisles, no unbridled cheering, no speeches or even high-fives among the eight councilors who voted in favor of the buyout.

It was certainly anti-climactic after all the drama of the past quarter-century: The environmental fines, licensing issues, contract negotiations, the odor problem, the truck traffic, the lawsuits.

Sure, a few of the twin cities’ movers and shakers cut loose and celebrated during a festive party after the vote at Bebe’s Burritos. But so many people put so many years of time and effort into advocating for the plant’s closure that it seemed odd to have anything short of a grand parade down Main Street.

Perhaps the lack of outright enthusiasm is because everyone knows that now is when the hard part comes.

For Biddeford, the closure of Maine Energy will be like a divorce. The city is relieved and happy that the difficulties are finally over, but life’s going to be different now, and it’ll take some work to rebuild the city’s identity without the plant.

Waste incineration is expected to cease within six months of closing on the buyout deal, which is slated for Nov. 15 at the latest. Then the facility itself is to be demolished within a year’s time, save for the stack. It’s going to be a big change for this area, and city officials will have to do their utmost to promote economic development in the wake of this decision.

Voters did not have a say in the buyout and many aren’t too happy about the council signing them up for a $6.65 million bill without their approval. Yes, the income from the cell phone company contracts on the Maine Energy stack will feed this debt, as will the taxes in the city’s TIF district fund, but the rest is going to come from the remaining taxpayers until the commercial tax base can be built up to fill Maine Energy’s taxpaying shoes.

Bringing in new commercial interests and convincing them to invest here has to be the city’s No. 1 focus in the next several years so that this buyout, which Mayor Alan Casavant described as an investment in the future, doesn’t become just another burden on residential taxpayers.

Without the odors, health concerns and negative stigma of a waste incinerator in the middle of the downtown district, Biddeford won’t be such a hard sell anymore. It’s a historic, oceanside mill town with easy access to Boston via Amtrak, lots of infrastructure, a well-respected hospital, renovated high school and Maine’s only medical school.

And those are just a few of the positives this city can boast. With the soon-to-be-signed contracts, curbside recycling can be added to the list ”“ an environmentally friendly convenience that has been repeatedly rejected by city leaders over the years due to cost concerns.

The Maine Energy buyout marks the beginning of a new era in Biddeford-Saco, no doubt, but the time for a real celebration will be when we start to see these cities blossom and thrive after years of cowering beside a stifling weed.


Today’s editorial was written by Managing Editor Kristen Schulze Muszynski, representing the majority opinion of the Journal Tribune Editorial Board. Questions? Comments? Contact Kristen by calling 282-1535, Ext. 322, or via email at [email protected].