Mr. Loyd and Ms. Weil
I have set up the article that was written by Mr. Loyd and the article that
Ms. Weil wrote to rebut Mr. Loyd's article side by side. I think it makes it
much easier to see what they are saying.
I have done this because my head is dizzy with he
I thought it would be helpful to be able to easily compare what they are
- Who is using facts? (you can probably guess who
I think is, but I bet you are wrong. If you write me, I will be happy to
- Who is using scare tactics and
- Who is keeping to the point?
- Who is providing the more balanced view?
- Who is more logical or rational?
- Who is the most credible?
- AND most important: who do you believe?
I believe both people are writing with the best interests of Harpswell in
mind. However, I think this shows why this issue is so difficult to discuss.
There are many comments I want to make. However I also want to be fair,
"objective," and balanced. I don't know what to do. I hope you will share your
perceptions of this comparison either here on on the Anchor Community Forum
To view a version with comments, please
Harpswell is over taxed. This is simply not so. No tax is easy to pay,
especially a property tax. Harpswell’s tax rate – its mill rate – is among
the lowest in coastal Maine. In fact, statistics compiled by the Maine
Revenue Service show that Harpswell has far and away the lowest tax rate
of all towns in Cumberland, Sagadahoc and York Counties. Harpswell’s mill
rate is lower than all but four towns in
Lincoln County and lower than all but one town in
Knox County. Even if you believe that Harpswell may be bearing a
disproportionate share of S.A.D. 75’s annual budget we are not over taxed.
If Harpswell’s share of the S.A.D budget is of concern to the voters, we
should deal with that issue directly rather than allow that it to muddy
the discussion about Fairwinds.
The Selectmen have
postulated that the Harpswell tax rate is about to grow out of control yet
not once have any of them provided the voters of Harpswell with an
analysis of why they believe that to be so. How can we be expected to
embrace a heavy industrial project of this magnitude on unsupported claims
that our taxes are about to grow out of control.
Harpswell is overtaxed for its schools and the
level of services provided by the town to its residents. It is not
easy to deal with the financial burden placed on the town by SAD 75. As
Mr. Loyd is well aware, Harpswell is party to a contract with three other
towns, and this would have to be renegotiated. If the contract is
reopened, the other towns are in a position to make the financial burden
on Harpswell more onerous.
More immediately, while four of the directors on the SAD
75 board are from Harpswell, voting is weighted according to the national
census population numbers. As Harpswell's population is not growing as
quickly as that of other communities, Harpswell's influence on the board
is declining. In the future, we can see Topsham demanding more school
programs and services largely underwritten by Harpswell's property taxes.
In 2003 approximately 60 per cent of Harpswell's property
tax revenues went to SAD 75.
The town provides minimal services to residents. We have
volunteer firefighting and emergency services. We have largely
contributory summer programs for children. Our small libraries are run
primarily by volunteers. We take our own refuse to the recycling center or
pay for haulage. We do not have a community center or recreation center.
Fortunately, we ask little from town government. Generally
speaking, we are happy if the town offices appear to be functioning
efficiently, law enforcement officials are in evidence from time to time
and the roads are plowed in winter.
Reduced property taxes will make Harpswell a more affordable place in
which to live. Most of us in Harpswell are understandably concerned
about the rapidly escalating cost of real estate in Harpswell and the fact
that it is making it difficult and often impossible for Harpswell’s
younger generations to stay in Harpswell or to return to Harpswell. This
is an unfortunate truth that applies to my family just as it applies to
others. Real estate prices are changing the Town as the population becomes
increasingly older and includes a larger portion who are “from away.” Many
arguments have been made that the revenue stream from the ConocoPhillips
project will somehow allow us to reverse this trend or at least slow it
down. However, an economic analysis of this argument revels that this
simply won’t happen! In fact, any tax relief from the Fairwinds project is
likely to increase real estate prices.
The proponents of the
ConocoPhillips project argue that if there is tax relief as a result of
the ConocoPhillips project, Harpswell real estate well become more
affordable or that prices will stabilize. That simply is not so, because,
while the property tax mill rate is partially driven by the value of real
property the reverse is not true. The value of Harpswell real estate is
driven by market forces – not the tax rate. The only reduction in
the market value of Harpswell real estate that is likely to occur if the
ConocoPhillips project is approved will affect property on Harpswell Neck
alone, due to the unfortunate and undesirable proximity of the property to
the LNG site.
Elsewhere in Harpswell
(which is most of the Town, geographically) the market value of real
estate will continue to rise or fall as a function of market demand for
real estate. To the extent that the ConocoPhillips project revenue does
provide property tax relief it will probably have the perverse result of
driving up the price of Harpswell real estate. This acceleration in
the rate of increase in market value will come from the fact that
Harpswell will be perceived to have a more favorable real estate tax climate
compared to other coastal towns. This factor will likely make Harpswell
real estate more attractive by comparison and will
drive up real estate prices all the more.
As we all know, there is
a finite amount of coastal real estate and an increasing number of buyers
in search of coastal real estate. This creates the classic set up for the
operation of the economic law of “supply and demand.” Regardless of the
Fairwinds project and any tax relief that the Fairwinds lease might
generate, Harpswell real estate pricing will remain a function of the
supply and demand for coastal property and, as the inventory of available
coastal real estate diminishes or remains constant against a growing
number of buyers, we can expect the price of Harpswell land to increase
accordingly. There is absolutely nothing we can do about this. A vote for
Fairwinds to obtain tax relief is a vote to increase the market value of
real estate in Harpswell and to make the affordability problem worse than
it is now.
Reduced property taxes will make Harpswell a
more affordable place to live.
It is incorrect to look only at the mill rate when
discussing property taxes. It is true that the town of Harpswell has a
lower mill rate than other coastal communities. However, Harpswell has
more shoreline than any other community in Maine, and that shoreline is
highly valued. As a result, our taxes are not low.
Moreover, we will have a revaluation in 2004. All
indications are that the state will increase Harpswell's valuation
substantially. In recent years new construction in town has resulted in
increased revenues that have allowed the town to hold the tax rate
relatively constant, thus masking much of the increase in valuation. This
will not continue forever.
No one has claimed that reducing property taxes will make
Harpswell a more affordable town in which to purchase property. The
concern is for those families already living in Harpswell who are having
difficulty paying taxes. Paying taxes in a matter of pride - and there are
individuals in this town who are foregoing food and medication in order to
make those payments. In many cases, these families have owned their land
for many years; and they are not interested in selling their property.
Mr. Loyd neglected to mention that Fairwinds has stated
its intent to hire employees in town. It might provide up to 50
good-paying jobs for local men and women, jobs with health insurance and
retirement benefits. These jobs would replace those lost in Harpswell when
the fuel depot closed. They would make it possible for some of our
children to remain in town, and to maintain inherited property or to
My husband and I have lived within one-half mile of the
fuel depot for more than 30 years. The old fuel depot was a benign
presence in our community. It did not impact our property values. We do
not perceive the proposed LNG facility having more than a short-term
negative impact on property values.
Misconception #3. The
lease’s revenue stream will be used for tax relief. As I write this
and before the first nickel is paid to the Town, the
call has been sounded by Harpswell citizens for an incredible wish list; a
senior center, a youth center, bike paths, a swimming pool, health center,
library, withdrawal from the S.A.D. while assuming our share of the S.A.D.
bonded debt, our own schools, a college scholarship fund for all Harpswell
students,…and the list grows by the week. ConocoPhillips uses the ever
expanding wish list to demonstrate to the Town that, with the revenue from
the lease “the sky is the limit” – we can do and afford whatever we want –
a seductive siren call for sure.
In the first full year of
the lease, after construction and the project is operational, the lease
payment will bring in nearly $9 million. Nine million dollars is a lot of
money by any measure, but as much money as it is, it is barely enough to
do all that is needed now, let alone to begin to satisfy even the smallest
portion of the Town’s wish list. When one begins to tally the costs to the
Town that it must and should assume if it enters into the Fairwinds’ lease
there is little left over for tax relief. For example: The Town has to
start off by establishing a $4 million reserve for the fishermen’s
mitigation fund – that is the upper limit of the Town’s responsibility
under the lease. Whatever is not spent in any year on mitigation can be
carried forward but – to the extent that the mitigation reserve is used –
the funds will have to be replaced. So, if most of the mitigation fund is
spent in any lease year the Town will have to set aside $4 million for the
next year, then the next, and so on, for the term of the lease. Add to
that the “set aside” investment fund that, in the exercise of prudence,
the Town must create and maintain to guard against the precipitous loss of
revenue to the Town on the day, 30 or 50 years from now, when
ConocoPhillips decommissions the facility. Most money managers would
recommend that upwards of one half of the revenue stream be used to fund
the Town investment fund in order to avoid leaving a fiscal time bomb for
our children. In the first year of the lease, assuming a flat municipal
budget and before we have our own schools or build the swimming pool, we
might have a net contribution to the Town budget of $1 million. If the
Town does what it must to be fiscally prudent and the Town budget grows at
a rate that is just a smidgen greater than the rate of inflation, the net
contribution to the Town budget likely will be only $300,000 - $500,000 in
the fist year. Thereafter, in later years, the net contribution to the
Town budget may appear to increase but, because of inflation and the
tendency for government to grow, in real terms, the net contribution to
the Town will not increase appreciably if at all. Personally, I do not
believe that contributions to the Town budget of any amount justify
the irreparable harm that the Fairwinds project will do to Harpswell, but
net contributions to the Town budget of $300,000 - $500,000 are not worth
even a moment’s consideration.
In addition, it would
behoove all of us to look at the negative experience of towns like
Wiscasset, East Millinocket, Millinocket and
Lincoln to see the consequences of total reliance on
a single industrial facility.
No one has committed the revenue stream to any
We all know that it is far too early to count upon
Fairwind's producing revenues, as the project is not approved by the town
or by the regulatory authorities.
But the selectmen have produced a document that is
available in the town office, showing the projected revenue stream from
Fairwinds. It points out that the revenue stream before completion of
construction is small. The selectmen have assumed that some of the funds
received annually after project completion would be used to reduce
property taxes. However, it also assumes that 50 percent of the funds
received after completion of construction would be set aside to ensure
continuing tax relief in the future. This is a financially conservative
approach, and it would be subject to a vote of the town.
Prior to the offer from Conoco-Phillips and TransCanada, a
list of impacted fishermen was developed. There are about 300 active
fishermen in the town of Harpswell. Approximately 60 to 65 fishermen from
Harpswell and neighboring towns fish in the Middle Bay area that would be
impacted by the passage of LNG tankers. Not all of their traps are in the
impacted area. Not all of these fishermen are opposed to this project. The
possible negative economic effect of the Fairwinds project on the fishery
has been overblown and overdramatized by a few fishermen.
Moreover, I would suggest strongly to the fishermen that
their outcry is directed at the incorrect target. The creation of a state
boat launch on Mere Point will allow hundreds of boaters to launch their
vessels every day during the prime lobstering months. Many of these boats
have blades on their props intended to cut fishing lines in their way. No
one will compensate the fishermen for the time they have to spend
grappling for their traps or for gear after their lines are cut. There is
no control over oil or gasoline spills from small craft. The boat launch
is potentially far more dangerous environmentally and economically to the
fishery than the proposed LNG facility.
Moreover, the younger fishermen might consider their own
futures. Fishing is less attractive as one gets older and develops
arthritic or mechanical problems with one's hands, wrists, elbows and
shoulders. A good paying job in town might be attractive.
Misconception #4. The
former fuel depot site is so contaminated that it cannot be used for any
purpose other than the ConocoPhillips project. I serve on the fuel
depot committee and, as a member of that committee, I am aware of the
environmental conditions of the former fuel depot site. Based on the
information available to the committee and from the Maine Department of
Environmental Protection it is clear that the environmental condition of
the site and level of contamination of the site is being intentionally
distorted and misreported. The site has been “remediated” – cleaned up –
and is approved for all uses other than residential housing – period. What
little contamination remains is located deep in the soil and is rapidly
being consumed and cleaned up by naturally occurring bacteria. Let me say
this another way – the former fuel depot site is safe for all uses except
residential housing and it has tremendous potential for many uses,
commercial, recreational and otherwise.
Harpswell is under the gun for the cost of removal of buildings and the
pier if the Town does not approve the ConocoPhillips project. The
projected cost of removal of these structures is estimated to be between
$1 million and $2 million. The Town appears to be in a headlong rush to
remove these structures before we know whether any potential commercial or
light industrial tenant of the former fuel depot can use these structures
or would be willing to remove all or some of them as part of its lease
obligation to the Town. There is no need to rush to remove these
structures. The Town should continue its search for one or more suitable
tenants for the former fuel depot site and negotiate the use or removal of
the structures with these tenants.
Is Harpswell under the gun to remove the buildings and
the pier at the fuel depot?
No, Harpswell is not "under the gun" to remove the
facilities at the fuel depot; but we do have to keep in mind that this
will have to be done. With each passing year the facilities become less
usable, or reusable, and more of a nuisance. The buildings already have
been subject to extensive and recurring vandalism.
Over the years the Fuel Depot Committee has been
approached by a number of individuals and several corporations about the
use of the fuel depot. We have approached educational and research
institutions. All have either wanted the town of Harpswell to provide
funding for their efforts or have found the restrictions placed by the
Department of Environmental Protection on the property to be too onerous.
The committee and past boards of selectmen have not been inclined to
pursue these projects, as they would place a greater burden on property
taxes and the outcome might be uncertain financially for the town.
To my knowledge no one has distorted or misrepresented the
condition of the site or the level of contamination. Remediation has
occurred - as far as is possible with the technology available to us
today. However, there is residual fuel in the bedrock. This is why there
are test wells throughout the fuel depot that are monitored twice a year.
This is why the Department of Defense retains liability for future
pollution found at the site.
The voters of the town of Harpswell have been told
repeatedly that if nature continues on its present course, the property
will probably be judged to be "clean" in approximately 40 to 50 years.
Misconception #6. The
ConocoPhillips project is Harpswell’s last chance to develop the former
fuel depot site – if we don’t approve Fairwinds the Town will have missed
the opportunity to develop the site. The fuel depot committee
has investigated, in a non-strategic and
somewhat relaxed manner, a handful of possible light industrial or
commercial uses and tenants for the site. But the fact is that the
Town and the Committee have not taken a serious, systematic strategic
approach to the economic development of the site. If the Town approached
the economic development of the former fuel depot site in a direct and
sophisticated manner, say, in the way that Topsham and Brunswick have for
their available sites, I have no doubt that a huge number of potential
tenants for the site would be identified and that leases would ensue – if
that is what the town’s voters wish. More to the point, if the Town had
put a fraction of the time and energy into finding a suitable tenant for
the former fuel depot site as it has in dealing with ConocoPhillips, there
is no doubt that we would have had one or more appropriate tenants some
time ago. Let’s simply resolve to approach the development of the former
fuel depot site using appropriate and professional economic development
techniques and in time Harpswell will have what it wants and needs – one
or more tenants that are appropriate to the site, that may well cover all
or some of the cost of removing the structures on the site and that will
provide revenue and increase the Town’s tax base.
Is the Conoco-Phillips/ TransCanada project Harpswell's
last chance to develop the fuel depot?
To my knowledge only Mr. Loyd in his article has suggested
that Fairwinds is Harpswell's last chance to develop the Fuel Depot. No
one has said that. However, only Conoco-Phillips and Trans-Canada have
studied the property and made a serious financial offer to the town.
Because the Fairwinds proposal is the only serious offer that the town of
Harpswell has received, it is incumbent upon us as a town to consider this
Mr. Loyd is correct in one respect: The Fuel Depot
Committee has been relaxed about seeking to develop the fuel depot. We
have enjoyed the beauty of the land and its permanent nature. It would be
wonderful to have property of this size and attractiveness available over
the long-term to the residents of Harpswell. But the town's Budget
Advisory Committee has, in my view, regarded the fuel depot as being of
marginal interest as they have struggled to prevent substantial property
tax increases. No private individual has stepped forward with the funds to
create a permanent park.
Several months ago, The Times Record published a letter
from a Brunswick resident. The gist of the letter was that if Harpswell
behaves this way in response to the Fairwinds proposal, who in their right
mind would ever want to set up a business in that town? Unfortunately,
this mirrors my own belief. Mr. Loyd is far too optimistic in believing
that we will receive another offer in the near future for the use of the
Fuel Depot - and far too optimistic in believing that it also will not be
ConocoPhillips will save Harpswell. Harpswell does not need to be
saved, it is a wonderful place in which to live, raise a family and work –
now. The only thing that Harpswell needs to be saved from are those who
are willing to sacrifice the character, culture, environment, health and
safety of the Town and Middle Bay for a seductive and illusory income
Economic issues are only
a few of the important issues that Harpswell voters should consider in
connection with the ConocoPhillips proposal. I hope my focus on important
basic economic issues, such as taxes, property values, and the former fuel
depot site will help Harpswell voters consider the real facts and economic
considerations and not have their opinions biased by the large amount of
misinformation on these issues.
Do we need Fairwinds?
The offer the town of Harpswell has received from
Conoco-Phillips and TransCanada Pipelines is very financially remunerative
to the town. The lease contains many safeguards for the town and promises
Mr. Loyd is correct in saying that Harpswell does not need
to be saved financially. That is why the lease is so very positive for the
town of Harpswell. For once, we were negotiating from a position of
Mr. Loyd's article, like much of the campaign against
Fairwinds, concentrates on ME. It is a very personal ME. He discounts or
ignores intentionally the possible economic and financial benefit to the
greater ME - the region and the state of Maine.
During the construction period, contracts would be let and
workers hired. Some of this money would be spent in the state of Maine. To
the extent that it is spent in Maine, the positive multiplier effect would
be felt throughout the local and regional economy. Moreover, the state
would receive more tax revenues. The state's simulation model suggests
that during construction the benefit to the region will be as much as $257
million per year and that increased tax revenues to the state will be $6.5
During and after construction, there will be a need for
many ancillary services. Many of these services could be provided by
Harpswell residents or by firms in neighboring cities and towns. The
multiplier effect would not be temporary, it would be long-term and
sustainable. Here the state's simulation model suggests that the benefits
might total $105 million annually.
If the LNG could be sold to power the Cousin's Island
power plant, Harpswell and Maine would have significantly better air
quality. This, in turn, should lead to reduced medical expenses for