Portland (Maine) Press Herald (pg. B1)  [Printer-friendly version]
October 21, 2006


Critics Of Biddeford's Trash Incinerator Fail To Energize Their Allies In Advance Of Next Week's Council Vote.

By Kevin Wack Staff Writer

Less than a week before the City Council votes whether to establish a long-term relationship with the owner of a downtown trash incinerator, the proposed deal has attracted little opposition.

Only about 15 people attended the first of three public meetings on the proposal, held Thursday at City Hall. The turnout was a far cry from March 2005, when more than 100 people crowded a public meeting aimed at closing the Maine Energy Recovery Co. In the interim, voters rejected a proposed buyout of the trash-to-energy plant, which led some people to conclude that it would be fruitless to keep trying to shut down the place, no matter how unpopular it remains.

Outgoing state Rep. Joanne Twomey, D-Biddeford, is among the environmental activists who have long fought the plant's presence along the Saco River. After trying to rally allies to attend Thursday's meeting, she was distraught over what she saw as a low turnout.

"I was devastated," Twomey said Friday. "So it left me saying, 'Maybe people really don't care anymore."'

The public hearing, which will continue Monday and Thursday at City Hall, is meant to gauge public sentiment regarding the contract.

Under the proposed deal, the city would see a reduction in tax revenue from MERC and could end up paying more to have its trash collected. The contract also includes provisions for curbside recycling and what supporters describe as tighter environmental rules.

Opponents of the deal have raised concerns about provisions to freeze the value of the plant at $51.5 million, impose financial penalties if the city sues the plant's owner, and authorize the burning of debris from construction and demolition sites.

The proposal would let the city decide whether it wants a five-year, 10-year, 15-year or 20-year deal. The longer the contract, the less money the city would pay to have its trash collected.

Mayor Wallace Nutting, who led 2? years of contract negotiations with Casella Waste Systems, the incinerator's owner, said that he supports a longer contract rather than a shorter one.

"I heard people last night say 20 years is too long, but the longer the contract goes, the better financially for the city of Biddeford," Nutting said.

Biddeford's posture contrasts with that taken by the neighboring city of Saco. After the proposed buyout failed at the polls last November, Saco officials cut off negotiations with the trash plant's owner. Saco recently signed a contract with another waste handler that will cost the city more money than a deal with Casella would have cost.

Biddeford City Councilor Matthew Hight said he is inclined to vote against the proposed contract.

He said he believes the terms were largely dictated to the city by Casella and he doesn't think the city should be entering a partnership with the plant's owner.

Yet Hight acknowledged that he likely does not have enough allies on the council to stop the deal. Former Councilor Wayne McBrearity, another outspoken opponent of MERC, said he believes that a long-term contract will be approved.

"I think they'll sign it, and I think they'll sign for 20 years," he said.

Supporters and opponents of the contract have two more chances to express their opinions. The public hearing will continue at 7 p.m. Monday and Thursday at City Hall. The council is expected to vote on the contract at the end of Thursday's session.

The proposed agreement can be found online at www.biddefordmaine.org.

Staff Writer Kevin Wack can be contacted at 282-8226 or at:


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