To the Harpswell Selectman
Ginger Connolly, Birchmere Lane

As a non-voting but tax paying resident of Harpswell (over 40 years), I think I speak for, at least some, of the many “summer residents” concerning the proposed Fairwinds LNG storage and regassication plant project.  

As I see it , there are 4 major issues. 

1.                   Safety :

 This issue is being addressed in many forums.

 The bottom line being that the energy industry will insist that LNG plants, pipelines and tankers are safe due to today’s advanced technology and regulations instituted after disasters in the 20th century (1944 and 1977). 

 Opponents insist that recent studies provide results that state that no LNG facility should ever be sited in a populated area due to the potential hazards which may result from accidents occurring due to construction, maintenance, natural disaster, or sabotage.

I do not think that any like facility has ever been placed in a location of such small acreage (Cove Point, which is frequently referred to as a similar facility is on 1000 acres not 68). Nor is there   one located on a narrow peninsula which has the restriction of a single road access in the event of an emergency evacuation. 

One would think that the federal government would consider these facts and deny the license but, this is unlikely.

 Voters must decide whether the potential of economic gain due to this industrialization of Harpswell justifies the admittedly small chance of danger to the school children in the West Harpswell school (less than ¾ of mile away) and to the small (less than a 100 families) population of abutting property owners on Rt 123, Birchmere and Edgewater colonies, and Curtis Cove. The Birchmere colony of less than 20 homes is especially endangered, since studies show that the 5.0 KW per sq. ft. of radiation heat, ALLOWED by the FERC standards at the site boundary, would cause second degree burns on human population within 30 seconds. This fact is not disputed. The federal government has decided that this amount of risk is acceptable. Neither the town of Harpswell nor the State of Maine have any input on this. 

The question is:  Is the risk justified by potential economic benefits?

2.                   Impact on the fishing (especially, lobstering) industry in Harpswell.

No one denies the negative impact that this will have on the many lobstermen who work the area in Middle Bay. Conoco Phillips, TransCanada and the Town of Harpswell acknowledge this fact and have proposed a “Fisherman’s Mitigation program “to address this issue. This program will allow lobster and fisherman to present claims to the town for lost gear, (lost catch and lost time and loss of lobster population ….. this is still a question)    The town will be responsible for settling these claims. 

Proponents of this proposal say that negative impact to area fisher/lobsterman will be minimal and easily rectified.

 Opponents say that this is another obstacle to an already struggling industry and that the fishing / lobstering community in Harpswell is part and parcel of what Harpswell is about and any obstacle to its economic success is unacceptable.

The question is:  Given the town’s stated desire to increase access for local fisherman

(in the comprehensive plan) How do we justify this project which will clearly reduce access and cause an increased burden to our traditional industry?

3. Economic advantage to Harpswell.

Proponents point to local job opportunities and lower property taxes as benefits resulting from this lease contract with ConocoPhillips /TransCanada.

Fairwinds states that 50 long term permanent positions will be available at proposed LNG plant. Of those positions, up to 10 will be filled by company transferred personnel. That leaves at least 40 potential jobs for all those in the greater local area to bid for.

The question isWill the selectman insist on a minimum of 25 – 30 jobs for local residents as part of the contract? 

One would hope so, as so many of the proponents of this project believe that local jobs are a major benefit.

Fairwinds states that the construction phase: about 3 years, 2006-2009, will create up to 900 jobs.

 The question is: how many of these jobs will be local?

The fact is that there are only a handful of firms who are qualified to build LNG storage and regassification facilities. None of these firms resides in Maine. Most of them use itinerant workers who specialize in this construction. In Wells, ME, when storage tanks were proposed, the only job available for local contractors was the perimeter fencing. Everything else was to go to out of state specialized contractors due to certification and safety concerns. 

The tank facility was abandoned in Wells but the pipeline construction proceeded and resulted not in local jobs but in a major increase in traffic of out of state license plates as specialized construction workers from Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas et al. moved in for the temporary job.   

The question is: Will the selectman insist that the winning contractor (sure to be out of state) guarantee a minimum percentage of jobs to local contractors?

Tax relief is another major perceived benefit.

 Harpswell’s current tax burden is less than $10.00 per thousand valuation. The increase in taxes recently has been due more to increased valuation of property than to increased tax rate. Increase in property value is generally a good thing …. But many long time Harpswell residents regard it as punishing and point to the inflated prices paid by vacationers and retirees for shorefront property as the culprit.   The fact is that Harpswell has become still another suburb “bedroom” community of Portland and Brunswick, both of which have very low unemployment rates.

The major influx of money to the town garnered from the ConocoPhillips lease contract is very attractive.

BUT who benefits?   The largest beneficiaries will clearly be those who currently pay the most. In other words, those “summer” residents who own property valued at over $250,000.00 will save the most if the tax rate is reduced due to the new income from the lease. Someone who currently pays $5000.00 in property taxes for a home valued at a half million. would save over $2500.00 a year if the tax rate was reduced by 50% due to this project. Someone who owns a home valued at $78,000. 00 will realize a savings of less than $400.00 a year.

In fact, the tax savings is not likely to be this generous…. History shows in similar situations that the tax rate initially decreases by no more than a third AND THEN increases in the ensuing years due to increased spending by the community for safety, infrastructure and increased services.

The question is: Will the selectman guarantee a tax decrease for all property owners in Harpswell? How much and for how long?

The economic benefit to the town could be offset by the liability to lawsuits that the Town will incur by leasing this property to an industry which will admittedly restrict both commercial and recreational boating in Middle Bay. In addition to the lawsuits that may be lodged against the town by the lobstermen, both local and not, who currently make their living in this area, there are 40 to 75 property owners who could conceivably sue the town for loss of use and the resulting loss of Appreciated PROPERTY VALUE. I believe that legal precedent has been set that allows that a “summer” or recreational property has the characteristics of ocean access, scenery and quiet built into the property values … ( This concept has been acknowledged by the Town of Harpswell by the recent re-evaluation of shorefront property) . Owners of such property may clearly have a suit against the town should the town take any action which will restrict access to the beach or ocean, reduce the quiet, vacation atmosphere, and/ or reduce the potential property value increase of such property. 

The question is:  How much of the anticipated windfall from the lease payments will be taken up by expensive legal fees incurred by the town should they allow this project even if they eventually prevail? In the event that the courts agree that the plaintiffs (lobsterman and property owners) have a valid legal claim, the cost to the Town could easily be several million dollars (perhaps a billion). How will this real potential expense be provided for?

4.       Last but not least… Quality of life.

Is industrialization of Harpswell what the residents truly want?

Every LNG plant in the United States is now accompanied by several other heavy industrial neighboring facilities. Most of these were not there prior to the LNG plant but instead came because of the prior existence of a heavy industrial facility and the accompanying precedents that have been set both in local zoning waivers and in perceived community acceptance.

There are communities which will readily trade quality of life characteristics such as a pristine coastal environment, scenery and quiet for the big bucks that the energy industry must and will offer to offset the loss of these characteristics.

The question is: Is Harpswell one of these communities? 

Sincerely,

Ginger Connolly

Birchmere Lane

Harpswell, ME