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Enough is Enough: Setting the record straight on the proposed deal with Casella

By Robert E. Macdonald

Mayor of Lewiston

This is part one of a response to an article by Hilary Lister, “Out-of-state waste to be allowed at proposed Casella processing facility,” which ran on Page 1 in the January 3 issue of Twin City TIMES.

Hilary Lister’s commentary on the proposed Casella Processing Facility that appeared on the front page of last week’s Twin City TIMES is so full of incorrect and misleading statements—and so lacking in other information—that it is hard to know where to begin to set the record straight.

She starts by stating that the Lewiston City Council voted to enter into discussions with Casella in August of last year “with little public notification.” The facts: the council held a workshop on August 7 to discuss the proposal.

This meeting was announced in advance, normal public notice was provided and a number of individuals who had contacted members of the council about the proposal were also informed of the meeting. That workshop was televised and reported in the newspapers.

At the next meeting on August 14, the council voted to go ahead on discussions. At that meeting, the council heard from members of the public, including Ms. Lister, who obviously had heard about the meeting in spite of her claim there was “little public notification.” At that meeting, the council only agreed to enter into discussions with Casella. Any agreement has to come back to the council for further discussion and action.

A second workshop was held on December 11, in which 11 individuals, including Ms. Lister, who lives in Athens, Maine, spoke. To imply the discussions of this proposal have taken place with little notice or opportunity for the public to comment is outrageously false.

Before dealing with the other errors and innuendos presented by Ms. Lister, it might help to describe what is under consideration—something that she neglected to do throughout her lengthy diatribe.

Casella is proposing to lease, retrofit and build a 15,000-square-foot addition (incorrectly reported by Ms. Lister as 4,000 square feet) to Lewiston’s currently underutilized shredder building at our solid waste facility on River Road. This represents a $4 million investment and will create 25 new jobs with benefits and an annual payroll in excess of $1 million.

The facility will accept single-stream recycling materials from Maine and separate those materials for their reuse. None of these materials will be allowed into the city’s landfill. The City of Lewiston will continue to operate the landfill and the current recycling area and it will staff the gatehouse that controls entry to the facility.

Casella would agree to accept our recyclables under a financial deal equal to or better than that provided to any other customer of the facility, although the city will be under no obligation to take our materials there. If approved, the City of Lewiston will receive lease payments, property taxes and fees with an estimated total of $160,000 annually.

A variety of costs associated with the current building will be transferred to Casella. The overall impact on the city’s bottom line will be about $250,000 annually.

Now, on to Ms. Lister. In numerous places throughout the article, she states or implies that any agreement would allow “out of state waste” at the proposed facility, implying that the operation would potentially be a front to allow waste previously sent to Maine Energy in Biddeford to be sent to Lewiston where it might even end up in our landfill. Here again, she misleads.

Only specified recyclable materials will come to Lewiston—the same materials we now collect from Lewiston residents. She asks, “Will Lewiston now end up with out-of-state waste going to Energy Maine?”  Not only is the answer no, but she and the others have been repeatedly told what will be accepted: specified recyclables only from Maine sources.  As to waste entering our landfill, that will flat-out not be allowed.

Among Lister’s concerns are lawsuits that have involved Casella. She paraphrases City Administrator Ed Barrett as saying that Lewiston would be free from such lawsuits because Casella is leasing the property. She obviously wasn’t listening.

What Barrett did say was that the lease would include exclusive dispute resolution provisions. If a suit was brought, it would be dismissed and go to mediation and possibly arbitration. Mediation and arbitration are less time consuming and less expensive when compared to court actions.

Interestingly, Southpark Corporation, a city development corporation, has had a lease with KTI, owned by Casella, for the last 12 years. How often have they been sued? Never.

The actual context of Barrett’s lease comments was in response to concerns that solid waste laws trump any regulation. As the property owner, the City of Lewiston can actually exercise greater control over Casella through a lease than it could through city ordinances and regulations.

In this instance, a lease gives us greater authority, not less. We will have access to Casella’s records on where materials are coming from, where they are going, where processed materials go and charges to other customers. This is all information that we would otherwise not see.

If there is a market for such a processing facility in Maine, it will be built. It could be in Auburn, Westbrook or elsewhere. If it is built on private property, its owner will have to meet local land use codes and abide by state regulations.

But the local community would have no additional say on how the facility was operated or from where materials could come. Isn’t it better to have the ability to more closely regulate and oversee such an operation through provisions that can be included in the lease?

See Part II of my response in next week’s paper.

 

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