Emails released concerning plans for natural gas power plant in Rockland

Environmental activist used Freedom of Access laws to obtain documents
By Daniel Dunkle | Sep 17, 2015
Photo by: Juliette Laaka A sign protesting the proposal for a natural gas powered plant is set up outside City Hall Aug. 19 during a forum put on by the city's energy committee.

Rockland — Rockland City Officials released a number of emails and other documents concerning discussions of the proposed natural gas power plant in response to a written request for documents filed Sept. 4 by Ron Huber of Friends of Penobscot Bay.

Huber sought the documents from six top city officials in the time period from July 28 to Sept. 4 using Maine's Freedom of Access laws. The documents can be viewed at this link: http://penobscotbay.blogspot.com/2015/09/foaa-responses-of-rockland-officials-re.html.

Rockland Energy Center LLC, a subsidiary of Energy Management Inc., based in Boston, has proposed a natural gas-fired power plant on the site of the present City Hall and adjacent Public Works garage properties.

Many of the emails relate to the planning of the Aug. 19 public forum in which experts talked about the power plant proposal.

In the emails released, City Community and Economic Development Director Audra Caler-Bell describes the project, saying: "The city has been approached by a developer with a concept of building a 70 MW natural gas cogeneration facility which will anchor a spur from Belfast to Wiscasset of the Maritimes and Northeast pipeline. While the city has not yet received a formal proposal we would still like to have educational sessions for the community on what this development will mean for Rockland and Midcoast Maine by holding a number of forums."

In an email to City Councilor Valli Geiger July 1, Caler-Bell said, "No specifics regarding the power plant proposal will be discussed at these workshops -- the idea is to provide more context around energy needs, challenges and what the economic impacts will be of having the natural gas pipeline extended from Belfast to Wiscasset."

At the Aug. 19 forum, the panel invited to speak included the director of the Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation's Clean Energy and Climate Change program, Greg Cunningham, mechanical engineer Kate Everett of Portland firm SMRT, attorney Tony Buxton, of Preti Flaherty in Portland, who focuses on energy and utilities practice, and Timothy Schneider, Maine's public advocate. The guests said they could not speak to specifics of the project offered to Rockland, as they were not familiar with the proposal.

In an email to City Councilor Larry Pritchett, Mayor Frank Isganitis, City Manager James Chaousis, City Councilor Will Clayton, Geiger and Caler-Bell on Aug. 18, Councilor Louise MacLellan-Ruf writes about contacting former Rockland Fire Chief Charles Jordan Jr.:

"I did reach out to Charlie Jordan. He is a face and voice that is very respected in our town," Louise MacLellan-Ruf wrote. "I have asked him to attend the meeting as an audience member. He is making himself available.

"No doubt Larry you feel comfortable to call on him about the safety of today's plants versus the plants of yesteryear? Even though the experts will tout the same safeness the community knows and trusts Charlie. This carries much more weight.

"Since safety is one of the number one concerns it makes sense to address it head on in a succinct and simple upfront manner."

On July 2, Jordan wrote, according to the documents:

"I will help in ANY WAY POSSIBLE. I had offered my alleged expertise (fire, emergency planning, real estate) up to the mayor within a couple days of the original (April 30?) presentation so that we could get past the lies and/or half truths being spread at the podium, but have heard nothing since."

"...I offer below the text of an email that I sent to Will the evening of or the morning after the initial vote in opposition. I had asked that he share it with all of you. My only concern that evening was that a 'railroad' of the issue was going to turn some of the fence sitters against it. In other words, my thought, politically, was that it had to be killed to be saved, if that makes any sense. I was actually never against it."

"FROM APRIL 30th - Will: I offer the following and hope that you might share these with the other Councilors and the City Manager, if you wish:

"I would like to see that cogeneration facility locate in Rockland and on the City Hall/Public Services land.

"I do not have any safety concerns as these facilities are HIGHLY REGULATED in terms of construction AND operation. The majority of natural gas problems come from dated infrastructure, which this will not have, and from excavation after failing to call Dig Safe.

"On the real estate front, I think good quality appraisals of each property are needed in order to allay fears that a city asset is being sold at a price below market value.

"In terms of the relocation of City Hall and Public Services, a plan needs to be put in place which shows that we can accomplish this on a near revenue neutral basis. Purchase, new construction, leasing?

"I am pleased you are rethinking on a more prudent and deliberative time frame - I believe it will give the project its best chance at ultimate success as much of the opposition, but certainly not all of it, was due to the compressed schedule."

The documents also include a June 29 email from MacLellan-Ruf saying:

"Thanks Charlie for your thoughtful comments and recommendations; all of which I agree.

"...No doubt, you have seen or heard about the council's willingness to 'kill the children' and 'go against the Pope' if we support a natural gas plant. Of course all of these things are further than any truths.

"...I think you can be an asset in offering a balanced voice of reason. We do not have that voice out there currently. Strategy in mind, if there is an interest on your part, maybe a letter to the papers? A radio interview? These are just thoughts and possibilities. How to get ahead of the rabid misinformation is proving a challenge."

On July 4, MacLellan-Ruf wrote: "Like I said, your voice, dare I say reason, holds a lot of weight in this town. Of course exploiting your strengths and clout is my unashamed ultimate goal."

Jordan also wrote: "I have no qualms about the safety of the facility. I would sleep at the place on any given night with all of its safeties and redundancies. And this from the 'nanny' who brought you residential sprinklers and no fireworks. It's actually much safer than a single-family dwelling where 2,000-plus people still die every year in the USA."

In response to the newspaper's request for a comment, MacLellan-Ruf wrote an email Sept. 17, saying:

"As with any issue that will have a potential impact on the City of Rockland and thus its taxpayers, it is important to receive well rounded feedback and opinions from many voices. Chief Charlie Jordan is a well respected and trusted leader of our community. I value his opinions."

In a phone interview Sept. 17, MacLellan-Ruf said it would not be accurate to say she is in favor of the power plant project. She said she wants all of the information to be available.

"It's important to get all sides and all points of view," she said. "It's not about who screams the loudest."

Jordan said in a phone interview Sept. 17 that he did not end up speaking at the Aug. 19 meeting. He said he couldn't attend the meeting because he was doing some work. He now works as a commercial real estate appraiser.

"I would love to see due diligence done," he said of the power plant project. He said he spoke at the first meeting on the issue, saying it should be voted down at that time because not enough homework had been done. He said he did not want to see a real estate deal done without due diligence, but he was not against the facility.

He said if anything, he approached MacLellan-Ruf and she was trying to encourage him. He noted the city needs money to operate for the services it provides and improvement of schools and this power plant may be a revenue source. "We are never approached with a project that is all one-sided."

Courier Publications News Director Daniel Dunkle can be reached at ddunkle@villagesoup.com or 594-4401 ext. 122. Additional reporting by Juliette Laaka.

Former Fire Chief Charles Jordan Jr. (Source: File photo)
Louise MacLellan-Ruf (Source: File photo)
Comments (9)
Posted by: Kathy Westra | Sep 22, 2015 23:07

Dan Dunkle, I trust that you will follow the links that have been posted in the comments section, and that you will interview folks from the other cities and towns who have had experience with this company (under whatever name), and that you will continue to ask the toughest possible questions and cover this issue thoroughly for the sake of all of Rockland's citizens. Thanks for your good coverage so far; keep it up!



Posted by: Sandra Schramm | Sep 21, 2015 22:18

I was not totally taken aback by the emails as it is pretty much what I had expected to read. I am though saddened that a candidate that I so believed in and spent many hours campaigning for has the chutzpah to show such disregard for the populace she represents and truly thinks that calling on Charlie Jordan to manipulate the residents of Rockland. I heard him referred to as a sock puppet recently and according to the email she wrote that would be an accurate description. What is more disheartening is him stating he attempted to abort the plan that night so that they could have a better shot at getting it passed later on. I then recall Councilor Clayton standing and saying he could not vote for the project after listening to the former fire chief. Then we all know about the infamous second vote 2 days later.  As our Fire Chief Mr. Jordan did have the respect of the community and it bothers me that there is this misuse of power in our city government.  When and where things got so out of hand at city hall no one seems to be able to pinpoint, but now it seems more distrust has been created. If anyone has followed all the reports in the last few months as the emails were being requested, you truly have seen how this Council thinks it is the sole decision making process and the only decision makers that the city needs. They are marginalizing the populace people of Rockland and there is no end to it. Each week attention is drawn to a new set of issues.

Meanwhile Mr. Evan Coleman of Rockland Energy is all over the city trying to sell his project, making promises of gifts for signing on and there are little deals being made around the city. He talks of  building in the Tillson area and probably that is where they will place the often mentioned new city hall, then charge us rent!  One could get the impression that someone was spreading gold dust in order to convince the residents that this plant is a good thing. When an entity such as this promises huge benefits to area businesses and to the city as well as tax relief to the residents to sell the project there is a huge reason behind the trickery.  Residents beware. There is much more to the story of natural gas cogeneration plants than you are hearing out of city hall.  The Manager wrote a message today asking why people were upset over the emails that were obtained.

https://www.facebook.com/weloveourtown/posts/1194319293928033



Posted by: Amy Files | Sep 21, 2015 16:48

Wow. It's very depressing to read through these emails. At a time when the world is calling for an end to fossil fuels -- and we've been told (at the last forum) that we will need to phase this plant out in 20 to 25 years -- I don't understand why anyone would see this as a responsible, ethical or morally-correct direction for our town to take. We, as ratepayers will need to fund expensive new fossil-fuel infrastructure -- infrastructure that will be obsolete in a only a couple of decades.

While people do use oil & gas today -- that should not be an argument to create new infrastructure or new demand for it. There are alternatives that are healthier for our environment and our economy: wind, solar, geo-thermal, heatpumps and more -- the technology is growing every day and becoming more affordable than fossil fuels. Renewables give us the option to become independent of foreign energy companies. And we shouldn't choose a dirty (fracked gas) option that is going to hurt or damage the homes of others, miles away.

"There is no longer an excuse for building new infrastructure projects that lock us into increased extraction decades into the future. The new iron law of energy development must be: if you wouldn’t want it in your backyard, then it doesn’t belong in anyone’s backyard. That applies equally to oil and gas pipelines; fracking in New Brunswick, Quebec and British Columbia; increased tanker traffic off our coasts; and to Canadian- owned mining projects the world over."

That is a quote from the Leap Doctrine -- addressing how we need to change our approach to growth and economy today if we want to have any hope at dealing with climate change tomorrow. It is written for Canada but very applicable to the issues in our own backyard.

Maine is the 5th fastest warming state in the country and our gulf is warming 99% faster than the rest of the world's waters. Climate change isn't just something that others far away are dealing with -- it is here and affecting our way of life now. We have the ability to make the right decision here -- say "no" to new fossil fuel infrastructure and do our part to keep fossil fuels in the ground -- it's the only chance the world has at fighting cataclysmic climate impact and anything less than that is short-sighted and irresponsible.



Posted by: Kathryn Fogg | Sep 19, 2015 20:23

Thank you, Maggie, for posting links to the subsidiaries Energy Corp has created in other towns.  It seems the business of natural gas is very fluid right now and perhaps the industry is changing so fast, that plans for facilities soon become outdated in the venture for a company to make a lot of money.  The other night the City Manager said he has nothing to report from Rockland Energy as he has heard nothing.  That is surprising for a company that was so anxious to get things started soon.  I fear that Rockland could end up with a huge facility which quickly becomes obsolescent.  Our city hall and public works land are quite usable as is for our present purposes.  I am glad that the City will be using the $1000/month to hire technical/legal/fiscal review of the proposal.  I hope that the Council will see fit to share with the public what advice is given.I am impressed with the knowledge  some members of the community have and think the Council should be greatful in the issues they bring up.  A community's minds can be greater than a handful who happen to be elected and we should all work together rather  than just getting starry eyed that a new business can only be positive.



Posted by: David E Myslabodski | Sep 19, 2015 19:12

TO THE PEOPLE/RESIDENTS/VOTERS OF ROCKLAND:

When are we going to take back OUR City Hall?

We made the grave mistake to elect a bunch of "Little Dictators From Away" to city council and all they do, at an increasing pace, is to work for the exclusive benefit of developers with total disregard to the well-being of The People.

 

After grossly mismanaging the City Coffers now they are unable to see past the dollars [which, by the way, will not materialize after being TIFed to death].

 

Local Government by The [Local] People and for the benefit of The [Local] people!



Posted by: deborah o atwell | Sep 19, 2015 13:38

Gainesville, Florida was a James Gordon deal.( Gordon, by the by, is the man behind the power plant proposal in Rockland.)  In Gainesville, Gordon's lawyers crafted a deal that crippled the city's democracy initially, it's entire economy finally. How? by getting city officials to sign a confidentiality agreement over any and all matters pertaining to the proposed power plant. Gordon's men said public disclosure during negotiations would reveal company "trade secrets".  The  only "trade secret" here was that Gordon got local government officials to trade in secret! Gainesville reps signed a disastrous contract. Today, Gainesville pays more for electricity than anywhere else in Florida. Gainesville's story is breaking open now. They have shut down their new power plant. They are rebelling against the James Gordon contract. James Gordon is who we are negotiating with!  May God save us all!



Posted by: Jason Haynes | Sep 19, 2015 07:41

When the world is moving to renewables, for the sake of our own future existence, it seems more than just a little illogical to be building a fossil fuel facility, especially in Midcoast Maine.



Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Sep 18, 2015 11:13

What these emails reveal are the attitudes of our town administrators and the former public servant fire marshall's toward public opinion on the complex and controversial topic of the proposed co-generation plant.

It is now clearer that these current and past city officials do not have the requisite temperaments to be public servants. They do not seem to grasp the basic tenet that public dissent is the backbone of a democracy.

Kendall & Phyllis Merriam

 



Posted by: George Hardt | Sep 17, 2015 16:41

The real question that is never even mentioned is who is making how much money on this project.



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