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Presque Isle Granted De Facto Control of

Tri-Community Landfill


Presque Isle Now in a Position to Leverage Their Votes to Force Their

Big-City, Bloated Bureaucracy Agenda on TCL


By:  David Deschesne

Fort Fairfield Journal, January 17, 2018


   With a 3-2 vote the Fort Fairfield Town Council was the final owner community of Tri-Community Landfill to approve a merger agreement with Presque Isle.   With its addition to the new board, Presque Isle is now in a position to adversely influence the former board, previously composed of Fort Fairfield, Limestone and Caribou, in ways that hadn’t been fully thought out during the merger meetings over the past two years.

   Proponents of the merger point to the change in the landfill’s interlocal agreement between the owner communities, which requires a seventy-five percent “super majority” vote to approve all significant and financial- related items to come before the board.  This was done to ostensibly prevent the two larger communities of Presque Isle and Caribou—with two votes each on the board—from dominating the agenda with a majority vote over Limestone and Fort Fairfield who only have one vote each on the board due to the reduced size and contributions of their respective communities. 

   Under this new arrangement, proponents of the merger state rightfully that out of the six board votes in total, Presque Isle and Caribou would still need at least one vote from either Fort Fairfield or Limestone in order to secure a seventy-five percent “super majority” to pass an agenda item.

   This prima facie presumption seems like a prudent voting arrangement at first glance.  But, given the fact that the communities of Caribou, Limestone and Fort Fairfield are such enthusiastic supporters of Presque Isle Landfill’s failed business model, as evidenced by those towns’ approval of the merger to begin with, it is reasonable to presume their representatives to the landfill board will be as acquiescent to the dominant community in upcoming landfill business, functioning essentially as surrogate proxy votes for Presque Isle.  However, if those board members don’t tow the Presque Isle line, Presque Isle could easily use the seventy-five percent “super majority” rule as a “nuclear option” to bully the rest of the board to go along with its ideas by withholding its votes on all landfill business until the rest of the board agrees to submit to their position.

   This could potentially place in jeopardy a measure which may have enjoyed 100 percent approval from the former Tri-Community Board by requiring at least one Presque Isle vote to bring it to fruition.

   The Tri-Community Landfill board with two Caribou votes and one vote each for Fort Fairfield and Limestone has worked well for years.  Together they have created the model of efficiency for how landfills should be operated in Maine, if not the entire Union.  On the other hand, Presque Isle has boggled their filthily-run landfill with inefficiency, extremely high debt load and incompetent decision-making.  Curiously, this is what the owners of Tri-Community Landfill have agreed to merge with.

   The January 3rd vote of the Fort Fairfield town council was preceded by a second public hearing on the merger.  Kevin Pelletier, a businessman in Fort Fairfield for more than 20 years, addressed the town council.  “I think there probably could be a deal here, but I think we can get a better deal than what's being offered.  I think that given some time - I know this has been in the works for a couple of years - a couple more months isn't going to matter.  I think that if we could get a board of folks together to do a little more research, maybe, to find out more about it because there's still a lot of people who don't know as much about this as I think they'd like to know.”

   Gary Sirois addressed the point of making financial information available to the council in order to make an intelligent decision on the matter.  “I have a lot of respect for the town council.  I'm in hopes that they would have some information provided to them to make intelligent and wise decisions.  We, as members of the public, have not been provided financial information.  It's impossible for us to make a decision or a recommendation to vote to let Presque Isle join Tri-Community.  I'm sincerely in hopes that the Tri-Community board, Mr. Risner and Mr. Rogeski have provided each and every one of you with financial information to evaluate, to make sure that you can vote in an intelligent manner.”

   Town councilor, Jason Barnes said the council was provided with detailed financials on the merger agreement.  “We have reviewed a significant amount of financial information.  The plan of operations going forward; there will be changes in the way that Tri-Community has operated.  We have the confidence that they've done their homework, they had the answers for the council, we have faith in their management and current board, and structure to protect our town.”

   While financial information was purportedly provided to the town council in executive session, outside of the view of the general public, opponents of the merger state that the information was likely skewed by Presque Isle-friendly advocates on Tri-Community's board and potential “reverse accounting” procedures deployed in order to craft a flowery and palatable set of numbers and information designed to influence the Fort Fairfield councilors to vote in a way favorable to Presque Isle's position.

   “I would not make a decision based on anything that's not going to improve our community,” said town councilman, Bob Kilcollins to the audience at the public hearing.  “Up until tonight, I was sitting on the same side where you are, with the same feelings.  But I got to look at our future and I got to look at our overall investments to our community, what's best for our community.  [I'm going to ask you] to trust me.  If you don't want to, you don't have to, but trust me. Because the beneficial benefits to our community is quite great.”

    Robert Novak dealt with the issue of trust during the public hearing.  “During this landfill debate I've heard over and over again that we need to trust our elected officials.  Just to be clear, trust is not expected it is earned.  Through no fault of the council's behalf and whether done intentionally or not, this process sure appeared to be a deliberate attempt to fly under the radar.  I went to the Limestone public vote and it did not appear to be more than just a handful of folks that showed up for it.  I've been informed by many folks from Caribou that they knew nothing of their council vote or that it had even taken place.  Whether this is lack of interest or energy to pay attention to what is happening in the community can be argued.  What is certain is the fact that minimal notification had been given to the affected citizens about the proposal.”

   Novak also detailed the options available to the town council. “By now, you have been presented with the numbers in executive session.  You have probably been told that if we do not approve this, Presque Isle and maybe someone like Cassella Waste Management will form a partnership, which in turn will put Tri-Community in an almost unwinnable competitive situation.  To add salt to the wound, Tri-Community's books have been opened to them, they know all the numbers.  To stay afloat in this situation, Tri-Community will have to improve their operations to an unprecedented level.  The other situation is, if Tri-Community merges they adopt future liabilities of the Presque Isle landfill; Fort Fairfield will see an increase in traffic hauling refuse to the landfill site; and in five to eight years all garbage in the general area will be coming to Fort Fairfield and Tri-Community's cash on hand will increase year after year.  From the 30,000 foot view, this is the most fiscal, sensible path that you can take.  This option is also viewed as the most unfavorable choice by the public.  People in Fort Fairfield have not forgotten all the horror stories they've heard from their neighbors in Presque Isle concerning their landfill.  Fort Fairfield citizens do not want trails of garbage alongside the roadways of various parts of their town going to Tri-Community; Fort Fairfield citizens cannot stomach the idea of a giant garbage pile in their town; and Fort Fairfield citizens do not trust this whole process and feel that the Presque Isle landfill is trying to offload their future concerns onto Tri-Community.”     

   Councilman Mitch Butler indicated that he was comfortable with the liability issues between the two landfill organizations because Fort Fairfield's responsibility was reduced from 25 percent to 17 percent and Presque Isle is now assuming a 20 percent share in the responsibility.  As was pointed out in a WFFJ-TV news video on the subject, Presque Isle could in the future, argue for more board members due to the increasing disparity of trash input  and financial commitments between the member communities.  Mr. Butler said this was unlikely to happen. “I can guarantee right now as long as I'm on the [town council] that will never happen because Fort Fairfield will never vote to allow Presque Isle to take over and have more votes.  That's never going to happen.”  However, Mr. Butler must remember the old adage that warns to “never say never,” because a future Fort Fairfield town council, which he may not be seated on, will be composed of a completely different set of councilors who come from another generation that may not have followed this merger as closely and could quite possibly be swayed to go along with a Presque Isle request for more board votes just as easily as the current Fort Fairfield town council was influenced to side with Presque Isle on this merger agreement to begin with, thus giving up not only 8 percentage points of liability, but also 8 percentage points of control.

   Melissa Libby, one of the councilors who opposed the merger, appeared to side with the public's perspective.  “If this was something I only knew what you guys know, I probably wouldn't be very happy about it,” said Ms. Libby.  “I'm nervous about the liability.  I understand that nothing may ever happen, but I still think about the what-if.  I'm not saying that I'm not willing to make changes because of the what-if, I just feel like I need more information, more time. I don't want to be rushed into this.  I feel like our community and other communities were rushed into this.  Yes, it's been presented to us a couple of times but I just feel like for some reason it's really quick that we need to sign off on this and everything be done and I just don't feel with a clear conscience I could do that.”

   Town council chair, Scott Smith, who also voted against the merger stated the public's concerns had been addressed but that he was still concerned about the liabilities.  “I've had many, many phone calls and discussions with individuals about this merger and believe it or not, your concerns have been addressed and hopefully they will be met.  I still have concerns with the liability, but we have an understanding now that Presque Isle will have a liability, they're going to assume ours.  We're both sharing the liability.”

   The point that needs to be considered regarding liability is, the Presque Isle landfill was poorly run and managed. So, the potential for future adverse liability to be incurred from their landfill by Tri-Community is far greater than Tri-Community's which has been operating its landfill properly and efficiently for years, thus creating a situation where future liabilities incurred by Presque Isle at the Tri-Community site will be statistically lower than those Tri-Community will be incurring from the historically mismanaged Presque Isle landfill site. Tri-Community, quite simply, brings a much lower risk to the table than Presque Isle Landfill does.

   The Fort Fairfield town council ultimately voted 3-2 to approve the merger with Presque Isle.  Voting for the merger were Bob Kilcollins, Mitch Butler and Jason Barnes.  Voting against the merger were Scott Smith and Melissa Libby.