Robert A. White

17 February 2004

Letter to the Editor:

Subject: LNG proposal for Harpswell – The price is just too high!

The proposed LNG terminal is not in the best interest of the Town of Harpswell and I urge voters to vote NO on March 9. Many people in the town worked on the Town Comprehensive Plan, which was approved by the voters, and does not include large industry. Why are the Selectmen pushing this proposal? For increased revenue to the Town, which very likely will not materialize because of the offsets of increased cost of safety services like fire fighting, and police and lowered tax revenues because of devaluation of property? The Town is probably not doing anything illegal by voting on this issue before a proper environmental/economic impact study is completed. But I am disappointed that such an important issue will be decided in absence of these reports. It is inherently unfair to the neighboring communities of Freeport, Yarmouth, Portland and others who will not get to vote on this issue. Certainly the proposed construction of a natural gas pipeline under Casco Bay and LNG super tanker shipping in Middle Bay affects those communities as well.      

I am particularly disturbed by a quote in a September 2003 Brunswick Times Record article from Harpswell Selectman James Knight. Apparently when Selectman Knight "...received a message that a California resident and part-time resident of Harpswell was intending to register to vote in Harpswell to help decide the issue, responded with 'I will tell everybody that this is a Harpswell issue to be decided by Harpswell voters. If you don't live here, you have no business registering to vote here. I don't take it kindly to anybody coming here from California who intends to come here to shape this community. It angers me greatly.' "

Well, Mr. Knight, we are non-resident property owners of a summer cottage on Potts Point which was built by my great great grandfather in 1889. No, I can’t vote and no, I’m not moving to Harpswell so that I can vote. But, the decision the voters will make on March 9 will affect us and our property. The last I knew about 38% of Harpswell’s tax rolls were non-resident property owners. If we can’t vote then, at least, you should hear what we have to say. If the LNG proposal is approved our property will be in the 2 mile radius inclusion zone for potential hazard. The property will inevitably be devalued in the marketplace. Does Harpswell really want to adversely affect non-resident property owners in this manner?

Make no mistake. The proposed LNG terminal and LNG tankers will be potential terrorist targets. Liquid natural gas transport and storage are dangerous business. If we learned anything from the attacks on our country 9/11/01, we learned that targets of terrorism can be anywhere and, the LNG terminal and tankers will be inviting targets. I have not seen any realistic renderings of the proposed 800’ docking facility, two 300’ diameter by 130’ tall storage tanks, or a 1000’ long by 150’ wide super tanker…I wonder why Fairwinds has never given us a realistic rendering? A 1000’ super tanker requires 12,000 ft diameter to turn (2.27 miles) and 23,000 ft to come to a full stop (4.35 miles). The Exxon Valdez had a little trouble in Prince William Sound in 1989. Take a look at Prince William Sound on a map. It looks a lot easier to navigate there than among the islands of Middle Bay and Broad Sound. Is this type of ship traffic really what Harpswell wants in its future, from 88 to 282 times per year? The potential for explosion and fire are very real with this type of facility and shipping traffic. There is a two mile radius of concern for potential disaster around both the proposed facility and the path of the tanker ships. An explosion and resulting horrendous fire and heat would be disastrous. I wonder if any of the Town Selectmen or anyone on Great, Orrs, and Bailey Island would like to live within that two mile radius?

My elderly parents live just south of the proposed facility. I am extremely concerned for their safety. Would they be able to evacuate in time to ensure their safety? And surely their property value will decrease significantly. Fair market value in future years may mean they could salvage 50 cents on the dollar for their investment in building a beautiful retirement home for which they saved all their lives. Will the Town compensate them for their loss if they need to sell to move to an assisted living facility in the future years? I am sure they didn’t envision this type of negative impact on their retirement when they built their house on property that has been in my mother’s family for over 200 years.

Of course, if the LNG proposal is approved, the Town of Harpswell will need to establish both permanent and professional fire fighting and police forces, as well as professional emergency response and emergency medical services. I don’t think Harpswell will have a choice. The costs associated with these professional services may exceed any revenue stream from LNG. And what about Route 123? Will it need to be widened and paved with concrete to accommodate the construction traffic? Do you really believe that the necessary construction equipment and materials will come by ship? I don’t. Who will pay for this road construction?  What about moving the West Harpswell Elementary School outside the hazardous 2 mile radius? The Town and the State of Maine will incur these additional and very costly expenditures.

Many Town residents are looking forward to property tax relief if the LNG proposal passes. I think that property taxes will inevidently rise if the proposal passes. Property taxes are based on fair market value of the property. Approximately 30% of the property in Harpswell is within the two mile radius of the proposed facility and shipping lanes. If this facility is built, theses properties will lose market value. Total losses in property value for these affected properties are estimated to range from $17.3 to $42 million per year. That cost to the Town of Harpswell more than offsets any anticipated revenue stream from the LNG facility. The people who think they are going to receive tax relief will be sadly mistaken. The net effect of decreased market value for property within the two mile radius will be that the home and property owners on Great, Orrs, and Bailey Islands will make up for the loss by having their property valued higher and/or assessed at a higher rate. I am sure this will not be welcome by any resident or non-resident seeking tax relief.

My parents worked very hard over the years to assure that our 115 year old summer cottage remain in the family. We afford the maintenance and other expenses on our summer cottage by renting it to vacationers who come to Harpswell every summer. I’ve seen estimates that recreational boating near Harpswell Neck, Middle Bay, and Potts Harbor is worth an estimated $3.2 million in direct spending, including the cost of some 380 moorings, fuel, supplies, insurance, repairs, and groceries associated with boating, and $14.5 million in net benefits to Harpswell’s economy through income and employment multipliers. These figures do not include general tourism. What will be the effect on recreational boating and vacation tourism if the LNG proposal passes? I think the net effect would be catastrophic. Income from renting summer cottages would all but disappear.  

I am also concerned about the potential loss of commercial fishing and lobstering business in Harpswell if the LNG proposal passes. The lobster and fishing industry has been an important part of the livelihoods’ of Harpswell residents. The potential loss of fishing grounds and time for these businessmen is unthinkable. The fishermen and lobstermen have a right to continue the pursuit of their livings without the hindrance of the LNG facility and its ships.  

In 2001 we were shocked when our insurance company cancelled our policy for our cottage, after 25 years with the same company and no claims. One of their reasons was that the cottage was too far from the volunteer fire department. I made many frantic phone calls to find a new company to provide our fire/hazard insurance. If LNG passes, will insurance companies cancel policies on properties within the hazardous 2 mile radius inclusion zone? They might. And that would be a terrible loss for homeowners in Harpswell.

We were quite disturbed two years ago when our property taxes doubled. But we will continue to pay them gladly for many future years of vacationing in beautiful Harpswell. I have spent some of almost every one of my 56 years vacationing in Harpswell. In the current real estate market, we cannot afford to permanently retire to Harpswell. If LNG passes, then we would not want to live in Harpswell. The coastal beauty of Harpswell is very appealing and luring to us as property owners and to renters who choose to vacation in Harpswell during the summer months. Please don’t ruin Harpswell’s beauty forever with this costly and hazardous LNG facility and its ships.

Many of the facts and figures I’ve included in this letter were taken from the “Potential Economic and Fiscal Impacts on the Town of Harpswell, Maine of the LNG Terminal Proposed by TransCanada Pipelines and CononcoPhillips” prepared by the Yellow Wood Associates, Inc. , February 2, 2004. This study was commissioned and paid for by private contributions to FairPlay for Harpswell. It disappoints me that private citizens funded this impact study which the Town of Harpswell did not think was important. The complete study and its summary are posted on the FairPlay web site: http://www.fairplayforharpswell.org/  I think every resident of Harpswell should read this comprehensive and thought provoking report before voting on March 9.

I urge you to vote NO on March 9. Harpswell does not need LNG. The price is just too high!

Robert A. White

Shelby Township, MI