MILLINOCKET, Maine — A spokeswoman for an investment firm behind a proposed $140 million pellet mill fired back Friday at gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler, saying that public comments Cutler made criticizing the firm conflict with the enthusiasm he had shown for the company months before.
“His comments clearly serve to discredit Cate Street and deter investments in our projects in Maine. The longer it takes Cate Street to attract investments to the area, the longer our projects will take to complete, resulting in a longer time frame for communities to realize the economic benefit and jobs associated with these investments,” spokeswoman Alexandra Ritchie of Cate Street Capital said Friday.
Cutler said Friday that he stood by his remarks, which he made during a meeting with Katahdin region businesspeople on Thursday in Millinocket.
“The issue here is not Cate Street’s reputation, but the livelihoods of hundreds of families in the Millinocket area,” Cutler said.
On Thursday, Cutler expressed doubts about the state continuing to invest in Cate Street, a New Hampshire-based investment firm that is bankrolling Thermogen Industries’ effort to build the specialized pellet mill in Millinocket and Great Northern Paper Co.’s work to restart a paper mill in East Millinocket.
Cate Street, Cutler said, “has yet to demonstrate to me that it has the capability, the financial capacity and the skills to successfully rebuild or build $200 million in businesses.
“They have represented themselves to be the vessel of people’s dreams in this region, yet all we learn about them day after day, week after week, is that there is a string of broken promises and failed deals, none of which recommends them,” he added.
Ritchie said that Cutler met with Cate Street officials and “he appeared excited about our plans for the Katahdin region and for the people of Maine. We are completely baffled by his sudden change of heart,” she said.
“I feel that the claims are not only inappropriate, but absent of fact,” Ritchie said. “Mr. Cutler says we have no experience in developing or managing a $200 million industrial asset. To the contrary, we recently successfully developed a $300 million biomass project in Berlin, New Hampshire. This project was constructed on the site of a defunct pulp mill facility and represents the same revitalization efforts we are working towards in Millinocket.”
Cate Street has facilitated more than $11 million in investments to date in the Thermogen project, Ritchie said. The specialized pellet mill will position the Katahdin region to move to a new, sustainable technology and create over 300 direct and indirect long-term jobs.
Yet, as Cutler alluded, GNP has run up a $6.8 million tab with vendors, its two Maine host towns and the Internal Revenue Service, according to liens and attachments filed at the Penobscot County Registry of Deeds. No new liens were filed on Friday.
“Cate Street has received more than $142 million in taxpayer-backed funds and loan guarantees, and yet it owes local businesses and taxpayers millions and millions in the towns of Millinocket and East Millinocket,” Cutler said.
Millinocket people “are deeply concerned about Cate Street’s apparent inability to meet its commitments to the people of the area and its lack of transparency about its finances. They feel like they are being held hostage,” said Cutler, who visited the town Thursday and Friday.
“I’m not the only one with doubts and reservations. The Finance Authority of Maine, which has already backed millions of dollars worth of loan guarantees, has reduced the guarantee by $9 million,” he added.
Cutler said he met with Cate Street officials at their request months ago, before its affiliates’ debts were known, as part of many informational meetings he regularly holds as a gubernatorial candidate.
“Those meetings and questions shouldn’t be construed as support or nonsupport,” he said.