Millinocket to back biomass project

Posted July 09, 2009, at 10:14 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:16 p.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — The town’s recent history is lined with fledgling businesses that brought with them promises of lots of well-paying jobs that failed to materialize as the businesses launched, then folded, moved out or never launched at all.

Among them are: Avenger Boats Inc.; Brims Ness; Ad Time; Cancun Travel Unlimited Inc.; and Maine Monolite LLC.

Separate efforts to build a $45 million biorefinery that would turn trees into fuel to power electrical turbines and to build a $50 million biomass boiler cogeneration plant disappeared after a few news conferences.

Those failures, Town Councilor Scott Gonya said Thursday, leave some residents skeptical about new businesses promising lots of jobs. That includes RE-Gen LLC of Rockport, which recently announced plans to build a $20 million biomass furnace factory at Huber Industrial Park next year, eventually employing 150 people.

“Some of the public is like, ‘Oh yeah, it [RE-Gen] is just another one of these,’” Gonya said, during Thursday’s council meeting. “We are going to have to explain this after tonight.”

That’s why councilors took a little extra time during their meeting to stress the bona fides of RE-Gen President Joseph M. Cloutier as they voted 7-0 to help RE-Gen secure up to $10 million in federally tax-exempt bonds through the Finance Authority of Maine.

The would-be bond agreement councilors agreed to sponsor in no way threatens town finances or credibility, councilors said.

“Whoever buys them [bonds] cannot come back to the town and say, ‘You owe us this much money because the company didn’t make it.’ There is none of that here,” Town Manager Eugene Conlogue said. “The town is simply a pass-through” for the distribution of the federal money.

Industrial revenue bonds are tax-exempt, low-interest loans paid back by businesses over a long time, often more than 20 years. Under the federal industrial revenue bond program, a municipality and state must approve the bond application to show that the bonds will provide jobs or other economic development. Instead of the town and FAME being liable for bond payments, RE-Gen would guarantee them.

“Our only role is to [help] authorize them to receive the money,” Gonya said.

RE-Gen will next meet with state officials to discuss their supporting the factory, Cloutier said.

Cloutier, who last worked in town nine years ago turning the former Stearns High School into an assisted-living center, “has nothing but a record of success in doing this stuff,” Town Manager Eugene Conlogue said.

“He is an extremely successful businessperson who has become successful in many different areas — everything from lodging facilities to restaurants to assisted-living enterprises,” Conlogue said. “He is very, very experienced in bringing these projects home and making them work.”

Doubters should “think about his past experience of success,” Conlogue said. “He is going to be his own first customer. He will buy the first one [biomass furnace] and put it at Stearns Assisted Living.”

Under Cloutier’s plan, the 50,000-square-foot factory would employ welders, fabricators, service technicians and administrators to build Italian-designed, enviro-friendly biomass gasification furnaces capable of generating 700,000 to 5 million Btu.

The units would be large and efficient enough to heat schools, hospitals and office and apartment buildings for a fraction of the cost it takes to heat with No. 2 heating oil, he has said. Woodsmen also would provide the very low-grade green waste wood chips (up to 80 percent moisture) that would burn in the ultra-high-heat furnaces.

The factory, councilors have said, would generate $300,000 in local tax revenues annually and under the plan employ 150 people in its fifth year. It could spark other industries, including hydroponic greenhouses, wholesale electricity manufacture and any form of light manufacturing that employs large amounts of industrial electricity at the park.

“This is great news from the area,” Councilor Jimmy Busque said. “There are some good-quality jobs with this. We have young people wanting to come here.”

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