LEWISTON — Adding 25 jobs to the city's economy and $250,000 to the city's bottom line outweighed fears of signing a 20-year contract with Casella Solid Waste Tuesday night.
City councilors Tuesday narrowly gave their approval for a 15,000-square-foot automated recycling center south of the city's landfill at the city's transfer station on River Road. The facility would replace the city's current recycling shed.
The measure passed by a 4-3 margin, with councilors John Butler, Donald D'Auteuil, Doreen Christ and Mark Cayer supporting the lease.
Councilors Nate Libby, Craig Saddlemire and Richard Desjardins voted against the deal.
Cayer said the city currently works with Casella subsidiaries — Pine Tree Waste and KTI Biofuels.
"We have evidence that they have been good corporate citizens, it's right there in front of us," Cayer said. "We can hear about things that have occurred elsewhere, but they have been here for 20 years. And every time the city has come to them with a concern, they have responded positively."
The decision came on top of almost two hours of public comment and testimony about the proposed lease and its impact on Lewiston.
Opponents were most concerned about Casella's reputation around New England, noting it has been the subject of dozens of lawsuits and actions by state attorneys general.
"We've heard what this contract is and a laundry list of conditions that we're trying to put in place," said Jim Lysen of 26 Taylor Hill Road. "I applaud the work the city has done, but to me, if you have to add that many conditions on a deal, I'm beginning to wonder who this partner is."
But supporters said the potential for jobs and city revenue was too much to pass up.
"I see this city has a problem with jobs," said Jason Michael Thompson of 145 Walnut St. "It's really tough out there, and any time we have a chance to have more jobs and bring more opportunity to this city, I think it's something we should embrace."
Bruce Damon, a member of the city's Planning Board agreed.
"It's an opportunity for the city to take a stranded asset, the recycling facility, and turn it around," Damon said. "It's a tough market and unless you are a major player, you'll find the market for recycling is a tough sell."
City Administrator Ed Barrett said the lease does a good job of protecting the city.
The center would take recycling materials collected from communities in Maine, sort it and sell it on the commodities market.
According to the terms of the 20 year lease, the city would keep ownership of the land, the recycling building and all machines Casella installs. The company would pay the city $5,638 per month — $67,656 per year — in addition to a entry fee of $5 per truck.
The lease amount and the truck fee would increase between 2 and 5 percent each year, based on inflation.
Barrett said the city would expect to receive $163,000 during the first year in taxes, fees and lease payments. The company would also take over city responsibilities sorting recycling, saving the city another $90,000 per year. Combined, it would mean $250,000 for the city.
Barrett also defended protections the city wrote into the contract designed to keep out-of-state waste away from the city. According to the contract, Casella can bring recyclable cardboard and plastic from Casella's KTI Biofuels operation on Alfred Plourde Parkway and some of that can come from sources outside of Maine. That's the only way waste from outside of Maine can enter the facility, according to the contract.
Hilary Lister, a Casella-critic from Athens, said the company could exploit that loophole, using KTI and the recycling center as a pipeline to funnel trash into Maine.
Barrett said that's not true.
"We specifically excluded in the contract dragging material in from out-of-state," Barrett said.
"Except the contract allows materials from KTI, so are you going to specifically segregate and track those?" Lister asked.
Barrett said the city would, with city employees working at the gatehouse to the facility and others inspecting Casella's facility.
"I would just recommend that you have really good oversight on that, then," Lister said.
Casella will have 10 months to build the facility once the lease is signed and would pay a $500,000 bond to the city if it defaults on the lease. That bond would be reduced to $225,000 after three years of successful operation.