about the public?
Northern hydro sale sets mills adrift, Ward says
The Great Northern mill at Millinocket
PHYLLIS AUSTINSenior Writer
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
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
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
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.
protest by lobstermen
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
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,"
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,"
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,"
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.
gross-out ads wean
teens from OxyContin?
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"
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,
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
"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
"I don't know whether companies in that position can divorce
themselves from their product enough to help people," Hinck
Days in Maine
76 percent raise is fit for a King
JAY DAVIS Editor
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.
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."
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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