BELFAST, Maine — A month after the Belfast City Council voted to ask the state retirement system to divest from fossil fuel-related investments, City Councilor Mike Hurley asked if his fellow councilors would put their money where their mouths are, so to speak.
He asked at Tuesday night’s regular council meeting about whether city staff can find an alternative when they replace older, oil-burning furnaces in the fire station and other municipal buildings.
“I would love to see if we could start a program to get off oil,” Hurley said, suggesting purchasing a furnace that runs on wood pellets instead.
But Councilor Roger Lee had a quick reply.
“I don’t think you have the science right,” he said. “The reason for divesting is to reduce [carbon dioxide] emissions.”
While a pellet furnace might reduce costs, it would not really reduce those emissions, Lee said. Hurley said he’d be open to any ideas, including installing solar panels or heat pumps.
Lee said that the city has made several forays in the past few years into making its buildings more energy efficient. However, only a few municipal buildings have been winterized, and although money has been set aside to do the work on the Belfast Free Library, the city hasn’t spent it yet.
“I don’t see the point of waiting,” Lee said.
Councilor Eric Sanders agreed.
“I think we should be acting with speed and concern and due diligence,” he said. “I think it suits the personality of this town and its residents to look toward the future.”
Mayor Walter Ash wondered why natural gas has not been brought to Belfast, even though a pipeline runs through nearby Searsmont.
“What would it take to get it here?” Ash asked. “It’s only eight miles away. It’s almost in sight. We almost can grab it.”
Councilors did not vote to take action on the discussion.
In other news, the council voted to authorized City Manager Joe Slocum to accept a $1.9 million federal economic development grant that will help the city reconstruct Front Street. Slocum told councilors that the city will aim to pay its $1.3 million share of the costs by taking out a 20-year note and having the debt service paid from the downtown tax increment financing district, rather than from general city taxes or revenues.
Councilors also authorized two grant applications, one to the Federal Aviation Administration for funds to do a second-phase update of the municipal airport’s master plan, and the other to apply for a $500,000 housing assistance Community Development Block Grant.