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Mr. Loyd's 'myths, misinformation, misconceptions' refuted

02/26/2004

Fuel Depot Committee efforts explained

By Roberta Weil, Times Record Contributor

I am writing to rebut the assertions made by Mr. Loyd in his Feb. 13 commentary titled "LNG in Harpswell: Myths, misinformation, misconceptions."

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 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 purchase property.

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.

No one has committed the revenue stream to any purposes.
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.

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.

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 proposal.

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 opposed.

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 town representation.

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 strength.

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 million annually.

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 lung-related illnesses.

I support the Fairwinds proposal. - In April 2002, representatives of TransCanada Pipe-lines Ltd. called me, as chairperson of the Fuel Depot Committee, regarding the use of the fuel depot property. In the course of a subsequent conversation, they asked me how I would react to an LNG facility. I told them that I personally regarded the reuse of the fuel depot as an LNG facility appropriate and that I would see no reason to oppose it.

I still believe that today.

Roberta Weil of Harpswell is the chairperson of the Fuel Depot Committee.

 

This letter was published originally in the Times-Record, on the letters page. Ms. Weil's letter was published on 2/26/04. It is also available on the Times-Record website at The Times Record Home,   

Ms. Weil's can be found at under archives Mr. Loyd's 'myths, misinformation, misconceptions' refuted