$333 Million Plan for Trash Incinerator Could Be Costly for Lower Connecticut River Valley

in Solid Waste and Recycling

A $333 million agreement reached between the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (MIRA) and Sacyr Rooney Recovery Team could lead to sharply higher tipping fees.

The agreement between the public authority and Sacyr Rooney arrives more than five years after the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection was tasked with soliciting bids for the refurbishment of MIRA’s trash-to-energy facility in Hartford that serves 50 member towns, including Lyme, Old Lyme, Essex, Old Saybrook, Killingworth, Chester, and Deep River.

Sacyr Rooney Recovery Team (SRRT) partners Sacyr, a Spain-based firm specializing in complex infrastructure projects, with Manhattan Construction Group, a firm experienced with financing and building large infrastructure projects, Baltimore-based Synagro, and CWPM of Plainville.

Under the agreement, tipping fees for 50 member towns are likely to increase to a $100 per ton, if not more, Fortuna said. The term sheet does not specify a cost, but it does state that “any cost overruns above and beyond the Refurbishment Budgets shall be, vis-à-vis MIRA, the responsibility of SRRT.”

“This resolution now requires the MIRA staff to put the Sacyr Rooney proposal to the member towns. That is basically all it does,” said Carl Fortuna, a member of the MIRA board of directors and first selectman of Old Saybrook. “It is now up to the member towns to decide whether they want to be a part of this long-term commitment.”

Moving forward with the term-sheet agreement will depend on member town approvals, as well as the signing of a final comprehensive development agreement by MIRA and Sacyr Rooney before October 2020.

“Reaching this milestone of term sheet completion was a long and difficult process. We are pleased with the progress made to date, and note that our customer towns expect and deserve a project that not only provides an in-state solution, but is economically attractive and reliable over the long term,” said Don Stein, MIRA Chairman and Barkhamsted first selectman in a press release sent after the agreement was reached. “The Board is committed to developing and pursuing opportunities for financial support that will allow MIRA to support the State’s self-sufficiency and leadership in waste management for the next several decades.”

The agreement calls for refurbishing the existing waste-to-energy facility at a cost of $290 million, refurbishment of the recycling facility for $20 million, as well as a study to determine the feasibility of constructing a mechanical treatment, biological treatment and anaerobic digester to expand capacity at the MIRA facility and reduce pollution.

According to the term sheet, if the development agreement is signed by October 2020, the recycling facility improvements to handle a minimum capacity of 100,000 tons annually would be completed by December 2021, and a refurbishment of the trash facility refurbishment to handle a capacity of 540,000 tons would be completed by July 2024.

In addition, the agreement includes an increased payment in lieu of taxes to the city of Hartford of $4 million annually and a 30-year contract to operate the plant.

“I can say at this point that DEEP is reviewing the term sheet approved by the MIRA board and looks forward to hearing from towns,” said Lee Sawyer, the chief of staff for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Sawyer said that “the overall cost of the project is higher than what MIRA and the developer had previously projected.”

“If the cost of the project is such that tipping fees are too high then it will be difficult for MIRA to move forward with this project despite the term sheet agreement,” Sawyer said. Currently, none of the other municipal waste authorities in the state charge more than $95 per ton for trash disposal. 

Early this year, Southeastern Connecticut Regional Resources Recovery Authority (SCRRRA) — serving East Lyme, Griswold, Groton, Ledyard, Montville, New London, North Stonington, Norwich, Preston, Sprague, Stonington and Waterford — signed a 10-year agreement to dispose of solid waste at the Wheelabrator facility in Lisbon, keeping municipal costs as low as $59 per ton for member towns in southeastern Connecticut.