May 29, 2020
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Millinocket backs boiler plan but seeks conditions

MILLINOCKET, Maine — The town supports a biomass boiler that Brookfield Asset Management wants to build, but only if Brookfield restarts the town mill and restores jobs lost when the mill closed in 2008.

At Brookfield’s urging and with the Town Council’s approval, Town Manager Eugene Conlogue will send Gov. John Baldacci a council letter supporting the boiler and the electricity it would generate for state utilities. The letter will go out by Monday.

But as Conlogue and councilors made clear, that support comes with big expectations.

Click to read Town Manager Conlogue’s letter to Gov. Baldacci

“If they are going to ask for a major, major favor through the PUC that will guarantee that the biomass facility gets approved, then we need to get something from that, and that is the reopening of the paper mill,” Conlogue said during a council meeting Thursday. “So that is what we have said to him.”

The Maine Public Utilities Commission is weighing a 20-year contract offer that would pay Brookfield for electricity generated by the boiler. The power company is also searching for a partner to operate the proposed 30-megawatt biomass boiler. A commission decision is pending.

Not much new is in the letter or council statements on Thursday, but both illustrate the distrust, miscommunication and simmering animosity between Brookfield and town leaders since the company abruptly closed the mill in Sept. 2008, cutting most of its 207 jobs and devastating the Katahdin region economy.

Toronto-based Brookfield Asset and its subsidiary, Fraser Papers Inc., have pledged to reopen the mill if they can get the power contract for the boiler, which also would power the mill and wean it from its profit-killing addiction to No. 2 heating oil.

Baldacci supports the project, as Conlogue acknowledged.

But the letter came from a prickly telephone conversation initiated by a Brookfield lobbyist who was urging more town action in support of the project. He was, Conlogue said, unaware that town leaders have vehemently supported it since its inception. Several councilors testified in Augusta on its behalf last year.

The lobbyist’s apparent audacity irked councilors.

“I have had it with corporate welfare. All they seem to do is ask people for stuff and what do they give you? Nothing,” said council Chairman Scott Gonya, a millworker laid off when the mill closed.

Gonya listed several state tax break programs that corporations such as Brookfield have enjoyed.

If Brookfield really wants council support, it could support town efforts to start a public utility, said Councilors Jimmy Busque and Michael Madore.

“We constantly hear from the company about being a good neighbor. It will be nice to see the company step up a little bit and get into a dialogue with us as far as providing power we could provide to businesses here,” Madore said.

Besides possible state incentives, the boiler program will get a 30 percent federal investment credit, Conlogue said.

The biomass conversion would take 10 to 12 months once a partner is found. That means that if all contracts are negotiated by next month, the mill could restart as early as March 2011, officials have said.

Brookfield thought it had a biomass partner in the summer of 2008, but that party balked at doing the engineering work needed to install the mill’s boiler.

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