From RWS to ecomaine
In the 2005-2006 fiscal year (June 30-July 1), Regional Waste Systems - now ecomaine - remained on budget while initiating many significant improvements. Key to our success is the melding of ecological stewardship and fiscal responsibility.
The following is a summary of 2005-2006 activities and issues. I encourage you to visit our facilities and to call me or your Board representative whenever you have questions or requests for more detailed information.
Kevin Roche, General Manager
Reorganization | Financial | Ashfill/Landfill | Recycling
Environment | Communications
- An Executive Committee of nine Board members was created to streamline day-to-day operations of ecomaine, with all member-municipalities represented in proportion to their size.
- The Board also voted to revoke a sunset clause in the original contract between member-communities that would have dissolved the non-profit corporation in 2014. The decision to accept the Board's recommendation was made by each municipality. All 21 owner-communities accepted the new contracts, confirming their commitment to regional solutions for solid waste management.
- All six Associate Member communities had expiring contracts and all have signed new multi-year contracts with ecomaine.
- To reflect its reorganization and the on-going commitment to environmental matters, the Board voted to change the name from RWS to ecomaine. Appropriately, the tagline is: the future of regional waste systems.
- ecomaine has an annual budget of approximately $25 million, of which $10 million is debt expense. We serve 27 municipalities with a total population of 240,000 - 20% of Maine's population.
- By using ecomaine employees instead of a contractor to operate our ashfill site, $750,000.00 was saved (annually).
- ecomaine saved $2 million through the refinancing of existing debt at a lower interest rate, and did so without extending the number of payments. Existing debt service expenses are scheduled to begin declining in five years (see Table 1).
In September 2005, ground was broken for the seven-acre, $6.8 million ashfill expansion on existing ecomaine property. The Board voted to use money from the debt re-financing savings (referenced above) to partially pay for the project. These landfill cells will be double-lined to prevent groundwater contamination and will be monitored frequently. Ecological precautions add to the immediate cost of the project, but will lessen the likelihood of leaks and potential costs of future remediation. The expansion will requires 12 months to construct and is the first new cell since 1995.
- In 2004-2005, recycling received a record-breaking 20,734 tons, 2005-2006 saw an increase over that of about 18%. Recycling had its biggest single month - ever - in December 2005.
- An existing employee was reassigned to actively solicit recycling materials for ecomaine and to improve communications with haulers. ecomaine is the largest recycler in Maine, and in 2004-2005 our recycling operation contributed $1.6 million in revenues to the operating budget. This year, 2005-2006, our recycling revenues were $1.9 million with a surplus of about $600,000.
- Keeping abreast of improving technology, we completed a time efficiency study comparing the current two stream curbside collection of recyclables with a single stream curbside collection. The results showed a 24% increase in efficiency. (Though single stream technology is also expected to increase the amount of recyclables and lower municipal costs, this study was strictly to test savings in collection time.) On May 18, 2006, the Board voted to bring single stream recycling to Maine - the first in the state. The $3.7 million system is expected to be complete and operational in the spring of 2007. Funding will come from reserves and earnings from the sale of recyclables; tipping fees for trash will not increase for member communities. Revenues (after expenses) are projected at $4.5 million over 15 years.
- ecomaine processed a total of 168,435 tons of trash in 2005-2006.
- Competitive bidding for electricity produced in the waste-to-energy plant resulted in revenues in 2005-2006 of $5.2 million, 63% higher than the 2003 -2004 contract. ecomaine operations produce, on average, 100,000-110,000 megawatts of electricity every year (enough power for 15,000 homes). To be efficient, the waste-to-energy plant must operate 24 hours per day. For this reason, ecomaine uses the spot market to fill any fuel (trash) shortfalls and to keep the plant running at 90% (or greater) efficiency. For purposes of repair and maintenance, however, ecomaine schedules an annual shut-down lasting two weeks.
- The 7,500 member Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) named ecomaine the winner of its 2006 Waste-To-Energy Silver Excellence Award.
ecomaine is proud to have renewed its ISO (International Standards Organization) 14001 Certification, thereby continuing to demonstrate our commitment to excellence in environmental management. In 2002, we were the first public waste-to-energy plant in the country to achieve this certification. Since that time, ecomaine has undergone rigorous inspection and review by ISO every six months to retain this designation.
By injecting activated carbon into the gases coming from the waste-to-energy process (an added cost of approximately $150,000 - $175,000 per year), we are capturing and removing about 95% of mercury emissions. The total amount of mercury emitted from ecomaine in 2004-2005 was 24 pounds and in 2005-2006 it was lowered to 21 pounds. These emissions are well under the current DEP limit of 50 pounds per year, however, the law will reduce this limit to 35 pounds as of January 2007 and to 25 pounds in 2010. Though our emissions are low, we continue to search for additional means of removing mercury from the waste stream, such as consumer education to increase awareness about its legal and safe disposal.
- As part of on-going efforts to improve communications, ecomaine staff members have been pro-active in opening dialogs and sharing ideas with state regulators. The media have been warmly welcomed into our facilities and to Board meetings, and a full-time communications specialist has been hired to ensure further improvements.
- News releases regarding meeting dates, news about ecomaine, and educational information are more frequent than in past years.
- An emphasis on welcoming the public to tour our facilities has been made to familiarize communities with our operations, to educate the public and to answer questions.
- ecomaine staff members have also proactively reached out to communities by: visiting each municipality listening to concerns and answering questions; making presentations to schools that promote recycling; contacting community leaders and recycling/waste management committees through e-mail newsletters and other means; and more.