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What about the public?

Great Northern hydro sale sets mills adrift, Ward says

The Great Northern mill at Millinocket


Years ago, the Legislature granted Great Northern Paper the right to use the hydro power of the West Branch of the Penobscot River to provide "public benefits" to the Katahdin area through the operation of the two mills. "As soon as the power generating facilities are sold, [the mills] can't stand on their own," said the state's public advocate, Steve Ward. The sale to Brascan should guarantee that the hydropower will continue to flow to the mills to keep them in business, but he said, "it's unclear how to preserve that."
Tony Buxton, an attorney whose firm attempted an employee buyout of Great Northern from Bowater Corp. a few years ago, agreed that the "water rights should be kept tied to the mills. That's where the public interest is. The mills are the only basis for employment in that area," he said.
Until now, virtually all of the power from the hydro dams has gone to the mills, with only minimal outside sales via a tie line with Bangor Hydro-Electric. But the Brascan deal anticipates that a considerable portion could be sold to the New England power market.
At a recent public meeting in Milllinocket over a Tax Increment Financing program for Great Northern, local activist Vern Haines said the worst thing for the town would be the sale of the hydro asset. He contended the water rights to make electricity are public, not private, and can't be legally transferred to a new private corporation.
Great Northern's president, Eldon Doody, responded that the hydro sale is the key to the $150 million modernization at the Millinocket mill, which is needed to keep the company going, according to the Katahdin Times. Even with the sale, Great Northern is not out of the woods financially, he added. Doody was not available to elaborate.
GNP is borrowing $160 million from different sources, including the Finance Authority of Maine, for its critical Millinocket modernization project. Trilon Financial Corp., a part of Brascan, loaned GNP $110 million last August. John Hancock Bond and Finance Group also is involved. With Hancock, GNP has formed Maine Timberlands Co., which will hold 360,000 acres as collateral for that loan.
The hydro assets include six power stations, 11 storage dams with 300,000 megawatt hours of capacity and related transmission lines on the West Branch. They comprise the largest privately owned hydro system in the U.S. The fate of those facilities has been in question since Great Northern embarked on an unprecedented downsizing in 1986 and went through two ownership sales within a few years.
The Brascan subsidiary that would own the hydro system is Great Lakes Power Inc., which owns hydro facilities that supply Canadian pulp and paper mills. Great Lakes has agreed to supply low-cost electricity to the Millinocket and East Millinocket mills for 15 years, according to GNP. Great Lakes anticipates that two dozen employees would be needed to operate the hydro facilities, about the same number as Great Northern, and has promised to offer the jobs first to Great Northern workers.
As a result of the sale, scheduled to be completed by January, Great Northern has dissolved its hydro partnership with Duke Solutions Inc., a subsidiary of Duke Energy of Charlotte, N.C. The two created Great Northern Energy LLC, and Duke planned to invest $20 million in the hydro system in exchange for 49.9 percent ownership. That arrangement was so recent that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission hadn't had time to transfer the hydro license to GNE. Arrangements have yet to be completed with FERC about issuing a permit to Great Lakes Power.
"There are a whole series of questions about this deal," commented Ward, who noted that his interest is that of an observer because his office is not involved. One issue is transmission lines. Two lines are being discussed, he said - an upgrade of the link between Millinocket and Bangor Hydro's Chester station from 20 megawatts to 300 megawatts, and new construction along the Golden Road north to southeast Québec, where it would tie into the Hydro Québec system.
Ward said there's an excess of power now in New England, and, consequently, no market for the power that might be exported from Millinocket. He ventured that the Millinocket-to-Québec line would only make sense if it could generate considerable revenues. That one "strikes me as a little fantastic," he said. "A for-profit transmission line is not an idea whose time has come."
The president of Bangor Hydro, Carroll Lee, said his company isn't concerned over Great Northern "selling the hydro to somebody. It's their business issue." If there are plans to build a new transmission line, Lee said, "we're very interested in being helpful." A new line would improve power reliability in northern Maine, he said. "And it could be a source of backup power and potentially allow us to serve a greater load to Millinocket if there's future business development."
With the sale scheduled to be completed by January, it could happen before the Legislature gets to review the water rights issue. If so, and lawmakers want to have a say, they could enact a joint order to be sent to FERC expressing concern over the water rights transfer. The last resort would be a suit by the attorney general's office to try to stop the sale.

State official protests
protest by lobstermen

When a group of angry lobstermen forced a Department of Marine Resources trawler off the seas recently, John Sowles, the boat's overseer, complained about suspicions of all government officials.
"There is a great mistrust of the government," Sowles said. "There's a belief that most government employees in the marine industry are involved in a conspiracy. Every time we work with the public, we literally get blown out of the water."

For five weeks this fall, Sowles directed a trawling survey of the Maine coast to assess fishery stocks. He said the survey is the first and only attempt by the state to collect ground fish information. All the stock assessments, which determine fishing limits, are now based on distant research.
While Sowles knew Maine lobstermen were grumbling about the project, he was unprepared for what happened Oct. 22 off the Gouldsboro shore.
About 20 fishing boats surrounded the trawler, making it difficult for its crew to drop and drag its net to collect organisms on the sea floor. The trawler, flanked by the boats, returned in defeat to the dock.
Dana Tracy, a lobsterman for 29 years and part of the protest, called it a "peaceful, '60s-style sit-in." He said the lobstermen were merely protecting the waters that provide their livelihood. They did not want the trawler to disrupt fertile lobster grounds or lobstering equipment.
"John has stepped into a position where he says, and I believe, that he wants to help, but he has a lot of catch-up to do," said Tracy.
Sowles says he's not going to press charges because he's interested in working with fishermen. "We're trying to present a Maine picture that justifies Maine management in a federal context."
Beginning last year, Sowles began netting samples of sea urchins, crabs, cod, haddock, sea cucumbers and lobsters. About half the catch dies when it is pulled up on deck, but most of the lobsters are returned alive, Sowles said.
So far, fish stocks appear to be healthy. "We are seeing high numbers. I think this is going to help the lobstermen," Sowles said.
Tracy said one of the problems with the trawling project is Maine lobstermen can provide the kind of data Sowles wants for far less than the $150,000 price tag of each survey. But their information is discredited. He also resents the killed lobster, moved traps and disturbance of habitat. "We don't want to take a hit," he said.
Sowles denies damaging habitat and says he warns lobstermen to lift their traps in advance. And he argues lobstermen's data is necessary, but that his survey is also needed because lobstermen generally fish in fertile areas and could give unbalanced estimates.
Sowles understands lobstermen are reacting to unpopular government regulations, but he insists he's on their side. "They are feeling pressure on so many fronts, they're naturally reacting to the government. They see their way of life being threatened."
Tracy says lobstermen can sustain the fishery on their own, the same way they have for years.

Rebecca Goldfine

Will gross-out ads wean
teens from OxyContin?

Can Slim Jim and company bring Oxy moxie to the teenagers of Washington County? Depends on who you ask.
A slick advertising campaign funded by Purdue Pharma, makers of the prescription painkiller OxyContin, is now playing Downeast. The campaign, intended to curb prescription drug abuse, was created by Connecticut-based North Castle Partners - maker of the in-your-face Slim Jim commercials featuring pro wrestler "Macho Man" Randy Savage.
The posters offer sarcastic, gross-out gems like "explosive diarrhea" and "blowing chunks" to describe the "painfully obvious" effects of prescription drug abuse. It is part of a nationwide pilot advertising program mounted by Purdue Pharma that so far has cost the company about $1 million, according to spokesman James Heins.
Representatives of the Connecticut-based drug-maker, which sold over $1 billion worth of OxyContin last year, traveled to Calais to make the presentation along with Jay McCloskey, a former Bangor-based U.S. Attorney who now works as a consultant for the company.
Teenagers will take to the ads, according to a school district official who attended a briefing on the pilot. "As an adult you're going to say, God, how inappropriate, but as a teen, their favorite word is 'sucks,'" reasoned Heather Erickson, school health coordinator for School Union 106, centered in Calais. "It's going to hit home."
The district, which expects to receive five "Painfully obvious" kits, complete with squishy brain props and posters, will reach about 1,000 kids with the campaign, which targets middle-schoolers, Erickson said.
While school district and state officials politely welcomed the effort, it's clear Purdue Pharma's main focus is elsewhere.
Despite a slew of national publicity about opiate abuse in Washington County (including a story published in The New York Times Magazine and, rumor has it, an upcoming "48 Hours" television segment that will profile addicts from the area), a parallel Purdue Pharma effort launched Nov. 5 targets Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Charleston, W.Va., and three counties in southeast Florida.
The four markets were picked to reach as many people as possible, Heins said, adding "at some point, you have to place limits on a pilot." The selection of North Castle, which bounced its "Painfully obvious" concept off a large teen focus group and talked to teens in West Virginia about the issue, speaks to the drug-maker's commitment to prevention, he said.
"The Slim Jim ads, that's their campaign," Heins said. "I believe it resulted in a significant market share increase for that product. We're not marketing to teens, but we're trying to communicate messages that resonate with teens."
That communication wasn't extended to state officials, some of whom were unaware of Purdue Pharma's Washington County excursion. The state's Office of Substance Abuse, for example, was left out of the loop. Kim Johnson, who heads up that agency, said most of what she knows about the campaign came from the Bangor Daily News.
"Clearly they know what appeals to kids, but posters is a teeny little piece of what needs to happen," Johnson said.
A good place to start may be helping to treat what Farnum estimates are thousands of Washington County residents addicted to opiates. Treatment options are sparse in Washington County, which has no Methadone program like the one currently treating 100 patients at Acadia. That spells trouble for those addicted for 3-5 years, who Scott Farnum, program manager of narcotic treatment at Acadia Hospital, estimates have a 90 percent chance of relapse after attending a traditional detox or outpatient treatment program.
The opiate problem has hit particularly hard in the Passamaquoddy tribe, said Ed Bassett, lieutenant governor of the tribe at Pleasant Point. Although it will do little to help those already addicted, the Purdue Pharma campaign caught the attention of the handful of teens who attended the Calais meeting, Bassett said. "It's kind of like having zits on your face, and they say, by the way drugs are bad, too," he said.
Regardless of whether the campaign catches on with teens, it's clear Purdue Pharma's public relations effort faces daunting obstacles in Maine. The company, which also awarded a $5,000 grant to an anti-drug group in Calais and has offered to pay for teacher training and fraud-proof prescription pads, could soon face legal challenges.
Portland attorney Jon Hinck, who represents a Gorham man who says he became addicted to OxyContin after taking it for back pain, says his firm is looking to represent others who were prescribed the drug for pain and became addicted. Hinck, who numbers "potential claimants" in Maine at more than 1,000, says his firm is investigating how the drug was marketed to doctors. OxyContin, which has been hailed as a miracle drug for some patients with severe pain, was also prescribed for pain management in patients with more moderate problems, Hinck says. That often left them addicted and worse off than when they began treatment.
Predictably, he is among the skeptics of the "Painfully obvious" campaign.
"I don't know whether companies in that position can divorce themselves from their product enough to help people," Hinck said.

Chris Barker

7 Days in Maine

A 76 percent raise is fit for a King


Over in Augusta, where money is at the heart of most debates, there's an interesting juxtaposition of thoughts on the state's future. · On one hand, Gov. Angus King will submit a bill to the next session of the Legislature calling for a 76 percent increase in the governor's salary. King makes $70,000, which is the third-lowest in the nation for a governor and the same as Jock McKernan made in 1987, the last time the wage was raised. Approximately 300 workers in state government make more than the governor. At $123,500 a year, the pay would be a fair return on a year's work as Maine's chief executive, said Rep. Joe Bruno [R-Raymond], who supports the change. · But right down the hall, King's budget-cutters are working overtime trying to realize savings in current state spending. The governor has instituted a hiring freeze and asked department heads to shave 4 percent from their allotments, but "there's only so much we can do administratively," said chief of staff Kay Rand. It's likely that 76 percent raises won't be on the agenda. · In Belfast, the Chamber of Commerce is so strapped that it fired its executive director without even a moment's notice. Said the chamber president, "This move is dictated by [our] need to dramatically reduce our expenses and balance our budget." No 76 percent raises there, either. · The Manna soup kitchen in Bangor has a different problem with the failing economy. Said director Bill Rae, the essential service is down $8,000 in revenues from last year because "funds were diverted to other areas of need" - like the victims of the terrorist attacks. Rae said 2,700 have signed up for free Thanksgiving turkeys this year, up from 2,300 last year.

Election stories

Jill Duson became the second African-American elected to Portland's city council last week. The utility lobbyist already serves as chairwoman of the school committee. Ben Meiklejohn, who is a Green, was elected to the school committee, defeating an incumbent by but 17 votes. · In Ellsworth, supporters of stricter rules for developers won three seats on the city council. Citizens Organized for Responsible Development backed all three winners and immediately began collecting signatures for a referendum for a 180-day moratorium on major developments. Large Home Depot and Wal-Mart developments in recent years motivated the citizens group. · In Lincoln, 18-year-old Samuel Clay was elected to the town council, though his 1-vote victory is being challenged by his opponent. Said Clay, "If they don't think I'm old enough to make my own decisions, I'll just prove them wrong." He showed some maturity after the recount was announced, saying, "I don't see how I could lose right now. If I do, I'll be a little disappointed, yet I will still feel like a winner because I came pretty close, and there's always next year."

Damn the telemarketers

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the ornate sign outside the fire department in Boothbay carried a message first uttered by Admiral David Farragut during the Civil War - "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" On the other side of the sign was John Paul Jones' imprecation, "We have not yet begun to fight." Cooler heads prevailed, and the two signs became "United we stand" and "Two great nations - USA & Seahawk," the latter a reference to the town's sports teams. Said Chief Dick Spofford, with admirable equanimity: "Whatever is on the sign reflects on the whole department. We don't want to put anything up to offend anyone." · Three USM fraternity members who removed 1,000 copies of the student newspaper from newsstands because they contained fraternity-questioning comments now say they planned to pay for them. Indeed, a check for $50 was delivered to the newspaper office, though it was refused. Because of the offer, however, theft charges have been dropped. The administration may discipline the students at a later date. · Ellsworth High students have had doughnuts delivered by the in-house policeman and a pumpkin-decorating contest arranged by teachers, and still school spirit is lagging. Next on tap are a newsletter for students and parents and a suggestion box. A student newspaper is also being discussed, though the situation at USM may argue against that. · Some Mainers want to put an end to dinner hour telemarketing by legislating a state-maintained list of residents who don't want such calls. Will it happen? Not if MBNA has anything to say about it, which makes it unlikely.

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