MILLINOCKET, Maine — The Town Council’s visit to Madison, postponed today due to the threat of bad weather, will be among several journeys councilors will likely take as they study the complex subject of public electric utilities.
Public electric utilities in Houlton and Van Buren are among the places councilors might visit besides Madison as they learn whether pursuing such a course in Millinocket is advisable, Town Manager Eugene Conlogue said.
“We are doing the preliminary gathering of information,” Conlogue said Tuesday. “After we get through that part of it, the council will decide how to proceed.”
Given the Katahdin region’s need for greater industry and the enticement provided by the lower electricity rates that public utilities generally charge, the council has agreed to study the issue. Millinocket already has hydropower dams and generation lines, and the proliferation of wind farms around the state is another factor.
Lincoln officials also are informally discussing formation of a public electric utility.
Conlogue might recommend that the council seek requests for proposals to hire a consultant to study the issue. The consultant would be required to list council options and make recommendations for the precise steps needed to install a public utility to serve Millinocket or a larger area.
Madison Electric Works sells electricity at 13 cents a kilowatt-hour, one of Maine’s lowest rates, and Backyard Farms LLC, one of the Somerset County town’s largest employers, started growing tomatoes in Madison in 2006 to take advantage of that. The company has 130 full-time workers at its 27-acre greenhouse, the largest greenhouse in New England. It will soon have a 19-acre greenhouse that will put about 175 workers on the payroll.
Town officials will tour Madison Electric Works and also possibly visit Backyard Farms on Wednesday, Feb. 25, Conlogue said.
Resident Alyce Maragus is pleased the council is going to Madison. During Thursday’s council meeting, she gave a presentation that urged councilors to make job creation their top priority. Maragus applauded efforts of the newly formed Katahdin Area Recovery and Expansion Commission of officials from East Millinocket, Medway and Millinocket to stimulate the local economy.
“Unfortunately what I see is a concentrated focus on tourism and recreational activities, which supports a small portion of our community but encourages reliance on only one sector of our economy,” Maragus said.
Millinocket and the Katahdin region are home to some of the finest recreational snowmobiling in the nation and lots of other recreational activities. But it also is home to Katahdin Paper Co. LLC and its industrial campus, an industrial park, and manufacturers of heating boilers, kitchen cabinets, cheese spreads, furniture and other items.
An overabundance of grant money is available for snowmobile, ATV, biking and hiking trails, but “little or none” is set aside for job creation, Maragus said. She listed eight downtown businesses that have closed since the fall as an indication of how troubled the region’s economy is.
“It really hurts me to see this,” Maragus said. “People here are really struggling.”