Fort Fairfield will start battery recycling project to prevent landfill fires

Fort Fairfield will start battery recycling project to prevent landfill fires
Fort Fairfield will start battery recycling project to prevent landfill fires

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — May 15, 2024 — Chuck Ainsworth of the Fort Fairfield Budget Advisory Committee speaks to town councilors at a May 15 meeting. (Paula Brewer | The Star-Herald)

FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — Fort Fairfield will participate in a pilot program for recycling rechargeable batteries, according to Town Manager Tim Goff.

Town councilors learned about the project during their May 15 meeting.

Batteries have caused three fires at the Tri-Community Landfill, so getting them out of the waste stream will increase safety and save money, Goff said.

“The reason Fort Fairfield was chosen for this pilot project — and [Fire Chief] Mike Jalbert and I were talking about their last week — the last time they had a fire at the dump, they had staff out there for a week,” he said. “So the cost to Fort Fairfield is substantial when these batteries catch fire.”

When the batteries explode at the landfill, they catch surrounding refuse on fire, said Stev Rogeski, Aroostook Waste Solutions board member. As water filters down through refuse at the landfill and hits a battery, it can cause a chemical reaction that will get hot enough to start a fire.

The program would be for larger batteries, like those in cell phones or power tools, Town Manager Tim Goff said. The batteries would be stored outdoors in a covered 55-gallon drum covered with glass beads.

The program hasn’t started yet because details are still being worked out. The town will contract with Call2Recycle on the disposal program, he said. The only cost to Aroostook Waste Solutions will be shipping.

During a public hearing on the town budget, Fort Fairfield Budget Advisory Committee member Chuck Ainsworth shared committee recommendations and thoughts on how various departments have kept costs down. He did not discuss current figures.

“We are staunch supporters of keeping the mill rate low. I think that’s probably one of the biggest reasons we have a budget advisory committee,” Ainsworth said. “But we encourage you to continue to pursue reductions without sacrificing critical town services.”

Insurance costs continue to increase, and have risen 100 percent within the last five years. The town needs to do all it can to drive down those costs, Ainsworth said.

While the town has some excellent facilities, they all need maintenance or equipment. Committee members toured town buildings recently and found a floor drain in the public works building needs immediate repair. If critical needs aren’t taken care of, they could turn into expensive projects, he said.

In other places, fixes are complete, including a new meeting room floor in the library’s basement.

The police department needs updated cameras and tasers and is exploring grant opportunities. The department uses part-time employees to reduce overtime, which has saved the town money.

Fire and emergency medical services staff have looked at equipment grants as well as expanding services, he said. There is a shortage of patient transportation services in Caribou, and providing that service could become a revenue source for Fort Fairfield EMS.

The hearing drew few residents and no members of the public commented.

In other business, the council unanimously approved using $227,000 from next year’s anticipated congressionally directed spending to purchase a plow truck, rather than to fix the floor drain in the public works building.

Staff have found a way to repair the drain at a fraction of the cost, Goff said. The town’s last new plow truck was purchased in 2002 and needs replacing.

If the funds are awarded, the town would have to put up $69,257 in matching money, which would come out of next year’s budget, Goff said.

The town budget vote and the next council meeting will take place on Wednesday, June 12.

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