Lack of data make Gouldsboro officials balk at canning grant

Posted Sept. 23, 2010, at 1:42 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:07 p.m.

GOULDSBORO — Live Lobster Co., the Massachusetts-based company that wants to process lobster at the former Stinson canning factory in town, is pursuing another funding option with the state after Gouldsboro selectmen earlier this week refused to submit a grant application for the project.

David Farmer, spokesman for Gov. John Baldacci, said Thursday that the governor’s office is working with Live Lobster to secure a state Development Fund loan that would help the company with the purchase of the facility that closed in April, putting 128 people out of work.

“The state is not a broker here,” Farmer said. “We have a willing seller and a willing buyer. We’re giving them a hand with the [loan] application so they can get that facility back in operation and those people back to work.”

At this point, Farmer said, he was uncertain how much of a loan the company would seek.

Live Lobster has proposed to purchase the plant that closed in April from Bumble Bee Foods and to process lobsters there. The sardine plant had employed 128 people when it closed and Live Lobster president Antonio Bussone has indicated the planned lobster processing operation could employ up to 40 people in the first year of operation and as many as 120 by 2012.

The need to pursue the loan alternative came this week after Gouldsboro selectmen refused to submit a $400,000 Community Development Block Grant application on behalf of the company. Although the selectmen welcome Live Lobster’s interest in reopening the plant and the jobs that would bring, they have had lukewarm support for the grant application.

The selectmen initially had balked at submitting an application on the grounds that it might give the company an unfair advantage over local lobster dealers. Company officials indicated that if the purchase went through they would set up a local lobster-buying and bait-selling operation, which, selectmen said, would put Live Lobster in direct competition with local distributors who already operate on the Schoodic Peninsula.

In August, the selectmen agreed to sign a letter of intent to the Department of Economic and Community Development for the grant with the condition that Live Lobster provide additional financial information about the company and its plans for the idle cannery.

On Monday, lacking the information they wanted, the selectmen voted not to submit the application, for which the filing deadline is Sept. 24. Although they held open the possibility of another vote on Wednesday, they still did not get sufficient information from Live Lobster and therefore did not meet, according to Town Manager Eve Wilkinson.

“They didn’t get everything they needed,” Wilkinson said Thursday. “The decision they made on Monday still stands.”

Farmer said that the governor had made it a high priority to reopen the facility and get people back to work as soon as possible. The lack of support for the grant application will slow that process, but by pursuing the loan alternative, Farmer said, it will give the company a little more time to provide information the selectmen have required.

The loan is administered through the DECD and still would require support from the town, Farmer said. The deadline for the loan application is Oct. 1.

He said the governor’s office has been working with the company and the town to provide the requested information.

“We’re hopeful that more information will help them to make the decision to support the loan option,” Farmer said. “We have some time, but not an abundant amount of time.”

Bussone could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Wilkinson said the selectmen will continue to review information as it becomes available.

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