On Tuesday, January 8th the Lewiston City Council held a private executive session meeting to discuss a proposed 20 year contract with Casella Waste. Prior to the meeting, Casella submitted a 21-page response to people’s concerns with the company raised at the Council’s work session on December 11th.
Casella’s response raised more questions than it answered. The company’s letter refers a 30-year contract with Lewiston, instead of 20 years. When the discrepancy was brought to attention of the councilors they said it must be a typo.
In response to concerns that Casella is in the business of importing thousands of tons of out-of-state waste, the company states, in boldface type, that “No out of state waste will be transported to Juniper Ridge [State-owned dump in Old Town] because Casella’s operating contract with the State limits disposal at JRL to only waste generated in Maine.” It is true that the contract has that limit, but Casella fails to mention that following the signing of the contract, the company successfully lobbied the state legislature to change the legal definition of Maine waste to any waste processed in Maine. Casella imports over 150,000 tons of out-of-state waste to its KTI processing facility in Lewiston, and “processes” it into “Maine generated” waste, eligible to be dumped at the State landfill. Under the proposed terms of the single-stream contract, Casella’s single-stream operation could take in thousands of tons of waste from out-of-state via KTI for processing. Any waste that couldn’t be recycled would be sent to Auburn’s MMWAC incinerator, with the ash dumped in the Lewiston landfill. Casella would also have the option of sending non-recycled waste to Old Town to be “recycled” as daily cover on the JRL dump.
The contract itself currently contains a large loophole for out-of-state waste, allowing Casella’s KTI to sent out-of-state cardboard, plastic, and other acceptable materials to the proposed single stream recycling facility. Waste that could not be recycled could be burned at Auburn’s MMWAC incinerator, and the ash dumped in Lewiston’s River Rd. landfill.
In response to the question: “Does single stream recycling result in an end product that is less valuable as a commodity than presort recycling?” Casella responds that they market materials at maximum market values. Considering the market price for mixed materials from single stream has fallen through the floor in the past two years, and many municipalities that had switched to single-stream are now switching back to presort recycling due to the lack of market value for single stream products, the company fails to answer whether the single stream product goes for a lower price than presort recycling. Baled mixed paper resulting from single stream currently sells for $30 to $70 a ton.
Clean baled sorted paper and cardboard sells for $100 to $200.
One of the major barriers to creating high-value products from the single stream process come from the fact that glass gets broken and mixed throughout other products. The article “Single Stream Uncovered” in the August 2010 issue of Resource Recycling explains, “[I]t is virtually impossible to prevent glass from breaking as it goes to the curb, is dumped in the truck, gets compacted, gets dumped on the tipping floor…, is repeatedly driven over by forklifts, and is dumped on conveyor belts to be processed.”
In the letter to Lewiston councilors, Casella claims to achieve 100% extraction of glass, which is unheard of for single-stream processors. Casella’s existing single-stream operations separate glass on the processing line using spinning vertical disk conveyors. These conveyors sort out much of the glass, but much of it can still make it into the final baled products, just as small particles.
Worker safety is also threatened by mixing glass in the automated sorting process. In 2009 the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Health and Safety conducted a Health and Safety Assessment of Casella Recycling. MassCOSH surveyed Casella employees who reported that they experienced numerous injuries and health problems associated with their work. Injuries included scratches to eye, cuts by sharp objects such as metal and glass, and eye, throat and skin irritations and respiratory problems following exposure to dust particles from broken glass from crushing machines.
Casella’s letter to councilors claims the company has financial capacity to meet the needs of Lewiston, and highlights company revenues over $480 million. It does not mention the company’s debt load or junk bond status. On December 3rd, Casella replaced its President when shares of the corporation’s stock fell to its lowest price in more than two years. This followed a $9.7 million loss to shareholders, related to paying off debt. Wunderlich Securities analyst Michael Hoffman called the company’s quarterly results “just plain ugly.” As of early 2012 Casella carried over $594 million in adjusted debt – over $100 million more than its revenues – much of which will come due in the next three years.
Casella’s reputation in other Maine towns was the center of discussion during the Public Comment period at the Lewiston Council meeting. At the request of Lewiston resident Dan Gregoire of the community group Don’t Dump on ME, two former Biddeford officials came to speak about their experiences with Casella contracts.
Former Biddeford City Councilor Perry Aberle explained to councilors, “I’m here to caution you to really rethink a 20 year contract. Biddeford signed a 17 year contract, and Casella Waste didn’t hold up to their end of the bargain. …You’re going to regret it, signing into a contract for 20 years. Other City Councilors and other Mayors in the future are going to have to live with that contract.”
Joanne Twomey, Biddeford’s former Mayor and past State Representative also strongly cautioned Lewiston councilors to be careful when dealing with Casella, stating, “I’m here to tell you that for 30 years they never kept a promise,” pointing out that with the closure of MERC, Biddeford is left with “a toxic waste dump, with dioxin, for [the cost of] $6.5 million dollars” on Casella’s old incinerator site.
Lewiston Mayor MacDonald defended Casella, responding, “I have some comments and I can’t let this stand….I had talked to Alan Casavant because he’s on a coalition that I’m on. He stated they had no problems with Casella, and every time he asked them to do something, they did it.
…It almost sounds like what you’re saying is we’re incompetent, that we’re going to be sucked into a contract. We don’t have our dungarees rolled up and we’re not on the farm, and that’s what you’re implying.”
Twomey replied, “I’m not implying you’re incompetent, I’m implying Casella’s incompetent.
…If Alan has said they’ve had no problems, you should call the DEP and ask about the Dioxin that’s still on site.”
Biddeford’s current Mayor and State Representative, Alan Casavant is quoted in Casella’s letter to the council saying, “I was impressed by Casella’s willingness to work with us in good faith.”
His support of Casella is being strongly touted by Lewiston officials as proof of local support for the company in towns where they’ve operated.
Casella and Mayor MacDonald don’t mention that Alan Casavant has received multiple campaign donations from Casella and associates. Casella was one of the top donors to Casavant’s mayoral campaign. In his most recent campaign for legislature, Casavant received major donations from the law firms Casella contracts with to lobby the State legislature. Pierce Atwood, which employs six Casella’s lobbyists, was a major donor. Federle Mahoney, which employs Casella’s seventh lobbyist, was another major donor.
Federle Mahoney created Casella’s failed nonprofit Maine Green Energy Alliance, which was disbanded after investigations into misuse of Public funds. Last year, Casavant was a sponsor and vocal supporter of emergency legislation to turn over complete control of the State’s JRL dump to Casella, which failed to pass, but is expected to return this session.
Other officials from Biddeford have not been nearly so supportive of Casella’s actions. When the company was pushing a 30-year contract to take over Lewiston’s landfill in 2007, Biddeford City Councilor Matthew] Hight said he could not support a plan that encouraged Lewiston to partner with the company. “I don’t see how, in good conscience, I could advocate that given our experiences with Casella here in Biddeford,” he said.
Lewiston City Councilors are expected to vote on the 20 (or 30?) year contract with Casella on Tuesday, January 22nd.
The language of the lease, subject to change, along with informational materials from Casella, is available on the City website as of January 15th at: http://www.ci.lewiston.me.us/index.aspx?NID=570
Coverage in the Sun Journal:
Articles: MMWAC and Casella
Letters to the Editor: