Last fall, when I was a spectator in the audience of our town Council meetings, I watched and learned how the "Special Interest" won control over our town government. At one point I got up and asked what I thought was a very pertinent question:
"By bringing in all these anti-annexation entities, aren't you stacking the deck against it?"
The answer was a simple and emphatic "No!".
After sitting through an anti-annexation workshop, and living the nightmares of the now infamous "KILL IT" e-mails, I got upset. I knew in my mind that there was something drastically wrong here. So, I got involved. In the mind of a poor carpenter, it did not make sense to kill a proposal that could be beneficial to the citizens without at least hearing about some of the benefits.
In the construction business, when I am faced with unknown problems, I can usually dig up old blueprints, and use them to keep from wasting time and duplicating past mistakes. In the business of annexation, all the information and research needed was available only a few feet away, right across the hall. The 1988 annexation of about 4,000 acres to the East was the best example we could find to determine the benefits of annexation for Millinocket. That example was never researched; not a single councilor could find his or her way to walk across the hall and ask our C.E.O. to pull up the info, and do the math.
When I did the "math," I discovered that the town now receives $98,000.00 more a year in tax revenue that did not exist prior to the annexation of 1988. When I asked Dennis Cox, of our Public Works Dept. what cost the town has had to bear as a result of the annexation, he responded, "None, we were already plowing the road." The response from the Fire and Police departments was the same.
When we were warned of the massive costs that the town would incur as a result of annexation, it was a lie. There are no massive costs.
While working at Terre Haute apartments last winter, there was a break in the water main feeding that complex. I later learned that Terre Haute bore the entire cost of the repair and the resulting cleanup. Two years previous, I snagged an underground cable with my backhoe; they paid for that too. Terre Haute also plows, sands and repairs its own roads.
The prospective developers of the Hammond Ridge area will be no different. The land they develop, any roads they build, or buildings they erect will be theirs to maintain, also. They will install their own disposal fields for sewer, and drill their own wells for water. How are the citizens of Millinocket adversely affected by this? The answer is simple. We are not. We will however, have to plow the Lake Road. Speaking from experience; my father, brothers and myself did that contract from 1970 to 1974. At that time, we plowed all the way to Togue Pond, and it was not a big deal. It was $10,500.00 then, $22,000.00 now, and it would be a lot less when it gets mixed with the town's other plowing responsibilities.
So, why did the special interest take over and kill the annexation process? Answer… CONTROL!
When I researched our Town Councils activities of August 18, 1988, I found this:
Providing for: Annexation
Whereas, the Town of Millinocket is without adequate land for future development; and
Whereas, the Town of Millinocket may wish in the future to diversify its economy due to changes in the pulp and paper industry; and
Whereas, lack of adequate land may hinder future efforts to diversify Millinocket`s economy:
Now Therefore be It Resolved, that the following Resolution entitled "Annexation" be submitted to the voters of the Town of Millinocket, in accordance with Article IX, Sec 902 of the Millinocket Town Charter, at a municipal election, to be called for this purpose, to be held on November 8, 1988.
The motion passed by a unanimous vote of the Council, a two to one vote by the voters; and we still enjoy the increased tax revenues and the opportunities for growth today. So what has changed today? We are still trying to diversify our economy, we are still dealing with changes in the pulp and paper industry, and we still need more land in order to do so.
What has changed is control. For more than a hundred years, our local paper company controlled the Town's borders. When the mill did any major expansion, the company engineers broke open new streets and provided for the planned expansion of our town, controlling the resulting increase in population. The rest of the state described our town's tiny landmass as a "compressed, planned development." Compared to the rest of the state, Millinocket's house lots are very small. By paper company standards however, it was a matter of economics; the cost of engineering and installation of water and sewer, on any given street, was directly offset by the tax revenue received from the resulting new homes paying taxes. Small lots resulted in more lots, and therefore more revenue.
The Paper Company has, for more than a hundred years, directly controlled the growth of Millinocket. For 85 of those hundred years, we were fat and happy, and had no need to question the company's control of our tiny landmass. In 1985 however, the State of Maine, through the control exercised by the "Land Use Regulation Commission," demanded guaranteed employment levels from GNP before they would allow a permit for the "Big A Dam". That attempt to control and to actually stop the expansion of the largest Paper Company in the State, has resulted in this company being sold and divided four times in the last 15 years.
Prior to MAGIC, MEDAC, and Vision 2000, we had the Katahdin Regional Development Corporation, or KRDC. Just like today, our first economic development organization (KRDC), was comprised of prominent business owners, company leaders and respected members of the three towns. Just like today, we placed our trust in those leaders to find solutions to our economic development problems. They in turn, just like today, turned to the Paper Company to cut loose land for that development. What transpired then, just like today, was "Lip Service." While the Paper Company is stating the need for our small town to diversify it's economy, the meetings of the paper company's officers (behind closed doors), are stating just the opposite.
If you had the ability to be a fly on the wall during these meetings, you would see that the only thing that matters to them is MONEY! Paper companies are "Smokestack Industries," and are subject to some very stringent environmental regulations. If the "Company" were to allow another industry in, the resulting addition of another "Smokestack Industry" to this area would likely cause more expensive regulations to be placed upon itself. This is where the "problems" began, because it may cost them money. In the past 20 years, the companies that have graced us with their presence have become very proficient at saying one thing, even while doing the opposite.
Eighteen years ago, I approached the GNP with an idea to build a small batch plant in "Pit" area. The reply that I received was that the company had plans for something really big in that area, and I should find another location. To date, nothing big, small or otherwise has occurred in that area. Two years later, I approached the same company with an idea to build a vandalism proof concession stand at Jerry Pond. Back then, there were a lot of events and gatherings in that area. Again, I was told that the land was not available because it had been zoned for house lots, right down to the water. Another lie.
In the late 1990's, United Parcel Service wanted to build a terminal at our airport. They estimated that the operation would employ 12-16 people. Just like the "Soup Nazi" on the Seinfeld show, they met the "Land Nazi", and were told, "NO LAND FOR YOU!" So they rented a terminal in Island Falls. A few years later, an entrepreneur asked for land to build an airplane service garage, he was told the same as his predecessor, NO LAND FOR YOU! This man now has a thriving business at the Lincoln airport, where apparently are not burdened with a "Land Nazi."
Just last year, a local entrepreneur, who has been very busy building storage garages, ran out of room. He went to our local "Land Nazi" and asked if there was any land that he could buy to build more storage garages in this area; and again, another businessman was told, "NO LAND FOR YOU!" He had to buy probably the last available land in Millinocket, the former Katahdin Avenue School Property.
In the 12/4/04 edition of the Bangor Daily News, in a story describing the proposed auction of the West Branch Barn property, Marcia McKeague stated that; All told, she estimated that her companies have 2,450 acres that could be developed". My question at this point: "Is that land on the moon, or are you lying?"
At the August 18, 1988 Town Council meeting, all seven Councilors voted in the best interests of the citizens that elected them and passed a resolve that resulted in annexation of land to the East. They could not foresee this at the time, but what they had actually created was opportunity. Once land is released from the control of L.U.R.C., anything can happen. The proof is in the pudding. We now have "New England Outdoor Center," "Three Rivers Rafting," "Gardner Chip Plant," "Huber Resources," and a modernized "Goding Concrete Plant." These opportunities have also created dozens of jobs for the area.
But all is not "Roses." Last fall, when annexation hit our Town Council, it was described as a "HOSTILE" action towards business. The statement was insane, but still effective. The voting block that controlled the Council was able to turn the annexation process around and keep it off the November ballot. Please understand, the Town Council does not have the power to annex land; only the Legislature can do that. The Council does have the power and the responsibility to represent the wants and needs of its citizens and to appeal to the legislature for a hearing. It is at this hearing that the taxpayers and those who may be adversely affected by annexation have a right to interfere in the annexation process.
Instead, the "Voting Block" demanded that we invite the "Special Interest" into the process, Great Lakes Hydro, Katahdin Paper, Maine Timberlands, Maine Revenue services and the County Commissioners. All of these entities have one thing in common: they do not vote here, and they have no right to express their interest in our Town Council Chambers.
According to our Town Charter, the Council Chambers are specifically designated for the Town Council to conduct the Town's business that is in the best interest of it's citizens. I can find no mention in the Charter of the rights of "Special Interest" to interfere in a process that produces a benefit to the citizens of Millinocket.
While researching the past annexation process, Planning Board members informed me that this is not a piece of cake. If the landowners are not in favor, and the Town Council is not united in it's resolve to make it happen, the opposition within our Town Council will likely "KILL-IT" in the Legislature.
When this happens, and according to a Guest Column in the K-Times, there is every indication that it will, the citizens of this Community will need to ask the opposing Councilors:
"WHO ARE YOU WORKING FOR?"
David Cyr has been a craftsman since 1967, and a contractor since 1988. He served on the Millinocket Planning Board from 2002 to 2004, has been a Comprehensive Planning Board member since 2002, and was elected to the town council in 2004.