AUGUSTA, Maine — The Republican senator co-sponsoring a bill that would provide $250,000 starting July 1 for the operation of the Dolby landfill in East Millinocket predicted Friday its unanimous passage next week.
But Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, said he had no idea whether Gov. Paul LePage would agree with his fellow Republicans or attempt to block the bill if the Senate passes it. The House unanimously passed LD 1683 on Thursday and the Senate is due to address it Monday, officials said.
“I don’t have a clue. The governor has talked about vetoing bills and then passed them,” said Thomas, whose district includes East Millinocket and Millinocket. “If he does veto it, he will have a plan. He may already have a plan and [know that] we do not need the $250,000.”
“The governor was not real pleased with the bill from the beginning because he thought he had alternatives,” Thomas added.
The landfill is part of a dispute between LePage and Millinocket town leaders in which accusations of deal-breaking and lying have been exchanged. Town officials have accused LePage of bullying and threatened to sue state government over his decision last Wednesday to allocate to Millinocket $504,000 in Sudden and Severe Impact funds, not the $720,000 Millinocket is entitled to. The funds are state aid given to municipalities that suffer severe tax valuation losses, such as those caused by the devaluation of the two towns’ paper mills.
LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said the governor believed Millinocket leaders broke an agreement to contribute $50,000 annually to the maintenance of the landfill. The state’s assuming ownership of the landfill last spring was a key element to the state-government-engineered sale of both towns’ paper mills and the restart of East Millinocket’s mill in October, which restored about 216 jobs.
Millinocket officials said they agreed only to a one-time $50,000 payment and that LePage’s actions might be illegal. They said he lacks authority to withhold the funding, which the town is legally entitled to, and that part of his reasoning — that the Millinocket mill was overvalued for several years — is flawed because mill owners and state and local officials agreed to the mill’s valuation for several years.
Millinocket Town Councilor John Raymond announced in an email Friday that the town’s website, millinocket.org, has posted within it copies of all of the town’s documentation showing that town leaders never agreed to multi-year $50,000 payments. The documents are under the heading “School Funding Controversy.”
Bennett did not return telephone messages regarding LD 1683 on Thursday or Friday.
Among LePage’s alternatives is having a private firm run the landfill, which still accepts paper mill wastes, as a commercial venture, Thomas said. State government is seeking proposals now from interested businesses.
Maine Department of Environmental Protection funding might also be available, Thomas said. Under state plans, the Department of Economic and Community Development will operate the landfill, he said.
LePage and other state officials have worked hard on the mills’ deal and the landfill problem, Thomas said.
“There’s been a lot of debate,” Thomas said, “that we don’t need $250,000, we need $200,000, and there has been some talk that we can [operate it] for below that much.”
Debate over the landfill, Thomas said, shouldn’t obscure the goal behind it all: The revitalization of the Millinocket mill, which has been shut down for several years, and the planned addition to that mill site of machines that make torrefied wood, a coal substitute.
The mill’s new owner, Cate Street Capital of New Hampshire, hopes to have the first torrefied wood machine operational early next year.
“My primary goal in all of this is that I want both of those mills to run,” Thomas said. “The landfill issue is kind of a byproduct of all this, but when all of this is said and done, the most important thing is the restart of both of those mills.”
Thomas said he has no plans to press LePage to support LD 1683, which Rep. Herb Clark, D-Millinocket, co-sponsored.
“I am going to leave it to him. He knows that the landfill has to be operated,” Thomas said.