This is the last in a series on Casella Waste, which is seeking a 30-year contract with the City of Lewiston to take over the city’s recycling transfer station, build a single-stream recycling facility and lease land at Lewiston’s River Road landfill. The contract would allow Casella to process 90 million pounds of “mixed recyclable” waste a year.
The first three parts were published in the November 15 and 22 editions of TCT. See them at www.TwinCityTimes.com. Click on the Digital Edition, then click on the Archive button at top right to see the November 15 or November 22 Digital Editions.
By Hillary Lister
and Dan Gregoire
In 2008, Casella presented a plan to the Lewiston City Council to enter into a contract with the company to take the city’s recycling to its single-stream facility in Massachusetts. The company wanted to move its Pine Tree Waste collection operation out of Mechanic Falls to the KTI site on Plourde Parkway in Lewiston, bringing 51 loaded trucks a day.
The facility would continue processing construction and demolition waste, and Lewiston—which owns the land where the KTI facility is located—would extend the lease by 10 years and support Casella in the project. The Lewiston location would become Pine Tree Waste’s Central Maine base of operations.
Auburn officials expressed concern when they found out about the proposal, with then-mayor John Jenkins asking how the agreement would affect fuel coming to Auburn’s MWAC incinerator.
City Councilor Bob Mennealy stated, “If this is the kind of thing Lewiston is contemplating, I’m glad we’re not cooperating with them.” In March 2009, the Lewiston City Council declined the proposal to allow the Casella takeover of KTI.
Even though Casella didn’t get that plan approved, it continued to benefit from importing hundreds of thousands of tons of out-of-state construction and demolition debris (CDD) to KTI. In 2010, over 91% of the waste came from Massachusetts and New Hampshire, states which respectively ban the land filling and burning of that waste.
The CDD is sorted, chipped and sold as biomass fuel to incinerators that receive subsidies selling the “renewable energy” generated by burning the chips. Any materials that can’t be burned are sent to Casella’s JRL landfill, which technically only accepts Maine waste. But it can accept the ash and residue of out-of-state CDD, which then becomes legally classified as Maine waste when processed at a “recycling” facility like KTI.
In January 2011, Lewiston City Councilors voted to seek bids for a company to provide single-stream recycling and terminate an otherwise successful Lewiston recycling program, which involved storing, baling and selling recycling for Auburn, Greene, Leeds, New Gloucester and Turner, giving each a share of profits from recycling sales. With claims that it would save the city money in transportation and labor costs—and little public notification—a few months later Lewiston entered a contract to pay Casella to take Lewiston’s recyclables to its Charlestown, Mass. single-stream facility.
Casella got a good deal in a market where the price paid for recyclables from a single-stream facility are extremely low and with a portion of proceeds from sale of recyclables going to Lewiston only if Casella receives over $75 a ton for the materials.
Casella’s Charlestown operation has run into many problems with worker safety. In 2009, The Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health issued a report following a health and safety assessment of Casella employees in Charlestown in response to reports by numerous workers about widespread injuries and health problems caused by unsafe work conditions. Injuries included eye scratches; cuts by sharp objects, putting workers at risk for tetanus; eye, throat and skin irritations from exposure to dust particles from broken glass of crushing machines; a biohazard risk of being stuck with medical needles; exposure to biohazards from dead animals and rodent infestations in the trash; operating forklifts without proper training; sexual harassment; and lack of first aid to treat workers.
Employees reported being told by supervisors to go home when injured, rather than filing a report and pursuing medical treatment through workers compensation. Many of the workers at the Casella operation are immigrants, and due to concerns about legal status and lack of fluency in English, there is a particular pressure to not speak out about problems. The Mass COSH report notes that “Casella has firsthand experience with the tragic outcome of unsafe conditions—a worker was killed at Casella’s Southbridge plant in 2005 after getting caught in a conveyor belt.”
In August 2012, Casella presented Lewiston with a plan to build a single-stream facility at Lewiston’s landfill and transfer station on the recently repaved and widened River Road. According to company officials, the Lewiston facility would be similar to the one in Charleston, but smaller, taking up to 45,000 tons of waste a year. The company wants the city to enter into a 30-year lease allowing Casella to take over the recycling transfer station and build the single-stream facility, with the company paying property taxes on the space.
In a September 1, 2012 Sun Journal article, Dan Emerson, manager of KTI and would-be manager of the Lewiston single-stream facility, claimed there would be “no out-of-state waste going into Lewiston.” It is unclear what definition of out-of-state waste he is using.
Casella representatives also claimed there would be no out-of-state waste going to the JRL when the dump was first proposed. Casella then went on to lobby the state to change the definition of Maine waste to allow any out-of-state waste that is processed at Maine facilities—like MERC, KTI or the proposed Lewiston single-stream operation—to be dumped at JRL. It is also unclear whether Casella’s plan to pay property taxes on the transfer station land would give it greater control over the future of operations on the site of Lewiston’s dump.
At an August Lewiston City Council meeting on the plan, residents also questioned whether the 30-year lease would include terms similar to those in the Old Town Host Community Agreement, which prevent the town from taking action against Casella.
In August 2011, Casella reached a deal to have Biddeford pay the company $6.65 million to shut down the MERC incinerator. MERC’s closure will mean over a dozen communities and several corporations that have contracts to send waste to Biddeford will need another option. Over two thirds of the waste trucked to MERC comes from out of state.
Casella has filed an application with the DEP to send the trash to JRL, after it is “processed” at a proposed Westbrook transfer station. JRL is currently prohibited from taking municipal solid waste and out-of-state waste, but the Casella application infers that after the waste is “processed” it should be acceptable. The Westbrook plan is not a sure deal, and Casella may be looking to Lewiston as a back-up location to “process” out-of-state waste, allowing it to then be dumped in Old Town.
Now that we have a new city administrator and city council, Casella is back with another attempt at gaining access to our landfill, one piece at a time. Last year, with limited public notification, the Lewiston City Council extended Casella-owned KTI’s contract for an additional 30 years. This gave this KTI location the ability to continue trucking in CDD waste from out of state. In prior year’s plans, Casella tied proposed recycling operations to further control the guaranteed flow of CDD and municipal solid waste into the State of Maine.
If allowed to build the $4 million single-stream processing addition to our transfer station, many residents are asking if Lewiston will spend even more in legal fees alone down the road. We should learn from past experience and expenses incurred by communities such as Hampden, Hermon, Biddeford and Saco. Lewiston residents may well be faced with the same future as Biddeford, having to pay millions to repurchase the facility once issues become intolerable.
Is Lewiston truly saving money and recycling more by contracting with Casella for single-stream operations? There is no longer a Solid Waste Task Force to investigate whether the city is losing revenue that it once gained from running its own recycling operation, where baled and sorted recyclables could be sold for far more than the mixed materials that result from single-stream, and profits stayed with Lewiston and surrounding towns.
If we must contract out for single-stream, why not team up with Ecomaine in Portland, a Maine-based company with a better history of community relations that is wholly owned and operated by 21 Maine communities and has contracts with another 21 member communities? Lewiston should consider becoming a part owner or member community of EcoMaine until the contract with Auburn’s MMWAC incinerator expires in five years.
Many are questioning whether Casella’s five-year plan could include it becoming a major player or shareholder with MMWAC. The acquisition of a 30-year contract controlling our recyclables will likely guarantee not only a firm foothold and access to our landfill, but help to give Casella a monopoly and control of the recycling, burning and landfilling of both in and out-of-state waste.
We all need to take an active part to ensure not only our health, but that of the health and well being of our communities for the generations to follow. If you have taken the time to read this article, please express your concerns by calling or emailing your city councilor. Better yet, attend a scheduled city council meeting, if only for the experience and voice your concerns. They say that this is not a done deal!
Let’s take the time to look into the details of a deal that may only sound “green” on the surface before becoming the hub for out-of-state waste imports to Maine.