April 20, 2019

Committee finds skewed PERC rates Orono, board director discuss relationship

ORONO – Surprise was the reaction of operations committee members when they learned that the PERC plant in Orrington charges lower tipping fees to dispose of out-of-state waste than Maine municipalities pay to get rid of in-state waste.

“If limited amounts of out-of-state solid waste didn’t show up at the door, [municipalities] would be paying higher fees,” Greg Lounder, executive director of the Municipal Review Committee, said at Monday night’s committee meeting. In order to operate the plant efficiently, the director explained that 10 to 15 percent of the waste it accepts must be from out-of-state.

“The bottom line is you have to make it cheaper for them or they wouldn’t ship it up here,” Councilor Geoff Gordon said.

Lounder was invited to the meeting to discuss the town’s relationship with the committee. The nine-member board represents more than 160 Maine communities that deliver trash to the PERC combustion facility in Orrington. The PERC plant, which converts trash to energy, was built in 1988 with the vision of creating a long-term solution to Maine’s struggle to find space to dispose of its solid waste.

“Without PERC we would have already needed another Hampden [Pine Tree Landfill] and another West Old Town [Landfill],” Lounder said.

The member communities produce enough waste to run the plant at 90 percent capacity, but in considering future growth, the state eventually is expected to produce enough waste to run the plant at 100 percent capacity.

Ash from the PERC plant that goes to the Pine Tree Landfill in Hampden is scheduled to be transported to the West Old Town facility once it is operational.

With concerns about increased truck traffic headed to the West Old Town site going through Orono, councilors wondered if residents might be willing to pay the extra money to avoid out-of-state waste.

“I would be anxious and willing to take that to my board and discuss it,” Lounder said. The director, however, was doubtful that the board and communities would accept such an idea since “it would be a hit in the millions” if out-of-state waste no longer was accepted.

In addition, interstate commerce laws make it difficult to prohibit companies from accepting out-of-state waste, he said.

Councilors questioned what the proposed Palesky tax cap could do to solid waste disposal costs. While tipping fees for municipalities are set at $45 per ton until 2018, Town Manager Cathy Conlow and Lounder agreed that if towns were forced to cut waste disposal services from their budgets, residents would be paying much higher fees for individual waste disposal.

The town provides trash removal for about $70 per household per year. If the Palesky initiative passes, that service likely will disappear and the cost will be left up to individuals to cover, which could likely mean an increase of more than $100 per household per year.

“Intuition tells me it will simply result in higher costs,” Lounder said of the tax cap.

One goal of the Municipal Review Committee is to improve communications between the board and the communities it represents, especially when it comes to issues such as Palesky and having elected government officials hear opinions, Lounder said. He agreed to take the council’s questions and concerns to the board and report back to the operations committee in the near future.

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