Friday, October 27, 2006

Council delays its decision on MERC contract

Maine Today
October 27, 2006

BIDDEFORD - The City Council voted Thursday to delay a decision on whether to extend its relationship with the trash incinerator that many people believe is stifling downtown redevelopment.

The 5-4 vote was seen as at least a short-term victory for the incinerator's opponents, who worried that a contract would be approved without much public input, and who scurried at the last minute to attract an overflow crowd to Thursday's public hearing at City Hall.

More than 50 people spoke, and many said the city should do what it can to get rid of the Maine Energy Recovery Co. No one spoke in favor of signing a long-term contract with the incinerator's owner.

Thursday's vote means that the City Council will next revisit the proposed contract on Jan. 2. Many who spoke called for more time to better understand the proposed contract's complex terms.

The vote to delay a decision followed an earlier motion -- from Council President Kenneth Farley -- to sign a 5‡-year contract with MERC. That motion was seconded by Councilor John McCurry but then criticized by about a dozen residents.

Farley and McCurry were later joined by Councilors Rick Laverriere and Susan Deschambault in opposing the two-month wait. They were outnumbered by Councilors Phillippe Dumont, Matthew Hight, Albert Grover, Michael Ready and Pete Lamontagne. The slim vote to take more time drew applause from residents who stayed until the end of the 3‡-hour public hearing.

Those who spoke against signing a contract with MERC represented a broad cross-section of the city. They included coastal residents, artists and downtown business owners. Many spoke passionately about the unappealing odor that regularly wafts from MERC, making downtown Biddeford a less desirable place to visit.

"I discourage customers from coming to the city," said Chris Strassner, who owns a downtown business.
Several residents urged the City Council to follow the example set by the neighboring city of Saco, which walked away from contract negotiations with MERC and instead agreed to allow another company to pick up its trash.

"I think we should enter an adversarial relationship with MERC," said former Councilor Kyle Noble.

If the city takes such a stance, it will be walking away from 212 years of negotiations with Casella Waste Systems, the company that owns MERC.
The negotiations initially included an option to buy out the incinerator.

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

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