MADISON — When resident Ann Gehrke answered the phone Tuesday, a woman who said she was with CMS Polling asked her to participate in a survey about the area’s proposed natural gas pipeline.

Gehrke said she told the woman she favored Madison’s pipeline proposal over the one planned by competitor Kennebec Valley Gas Co.

That’s when she said the pollster asked, “‘Would you still be in favor of Madison having the pipeline if you knew they had to pay $72 million at the taxpayers’ expense?’ I knew that was a false statement, so I said, ‘Yes.'”

Gehrke said residents have been receiving calls recently from pollsters trying to influence their views on the proposed natural gas pipeline. The push poll is funded by Kennebec Valley Gas and a group of people opposing the town’s proposal to build the line from Richmond to Madison.

“There’s money being put in by the people who organized (the poll), and we will contribute to it,” said Anthony Buxton, an investor in Kennebec Valley Gas. He is also an attorney with Preti Flaherty law firm.

“The reason why we’re doing this is we’re looking for ways to communicate with the citizens of Madison,” Buxton said, who added that the town has not allowed Kennebec Valley Gas representatives to speak at public hearings about natural gas.

“We hope we’ll be given a chance to speak because it frankly doesn’t make much sense for the citizens of Madison to put their homes at risk,” he said. While he didn’t know how many people were being polled, he said, “I’m confident they’ll try to reach everybody.”

Residents will vote Nov. 8 on whether to approve a $72 million bond to pay for the pipeline. While people opposing the town-owned project say the bond would be a great risk for Madison residents, people who support it say the pipeline would generate enough revenue to both pay off the debt and lower taxes.

Gehrke said the poll questions were skewed and showed a poor business tactic.

“We have a lot of senior citizens that would be duped or swayed by a call like that,” she said. “I didn’t want to call her a liar right to her face, but I knew it and she knew it.”

If Kennebec Valley Gas supports a push poll, she said, she questions its ability to operate a pipeline.

“I wouldn’t buy gas from them if I had a chance to buy gas from them. It’s not right,” Gehrke said.

Resident Denise Ducharme also received a call from the same number. She told the female pollster she hadn’t yet made up her mind about whether Madison should operate the pipeline.

The pollster then asked her whether she would change her opinion if she knew the taxpayers would bear the cost.

“It seemed to me it was a slanted opinion poll, because it really — it was trying to lead me down a path of being afraid of the pipeline issue,” she said.

Ducharme, who worked at the Maine Office of the Treasurer for about 20 years, said the poll doesn’t make her question the integrity of Kennebec Valley Gas.

“If anything it makes me want to find out more about the issue itself, and it raises questions in my mind about the tactics that the anti-pipeline side are willing to employ,” she said.

“My bottom line is: Don’t make a decision without all the information,” she said. “Don’t make a decision based on scare tactics or anything else. Make a decision based on actual information.”

Two groups opposing the town-owned pipeline have formed in Madison.

In one group are Paul Fortin, Doug Denico and several other residents who have filed a request under the Freedom of Access law to see all town paperwork pertaining to the pipeline.

“My biggest concern is to mortgage the town to its absolute max,” Fortin said.

The group also has challenged the executive sessions selectmen have held over the last several months to plan the proposed pipeline, Fortin said. He said any discussions to bring the town to its maximum level of indebtedness should be done in public.

The second opposition group, Madison Against Bad Debt, is a political action committee formed by people living both in and outside of Madison, Fortin said, and it sponsored the poll.

Though he said he supports the group, he is not a member and didn’t provide the names of members. An effort to reach Denico was unsuccessful Wednesday evening.

The Maine Commission on Government Ethics and Election Practices does not list the committee on its website. Political action committees are organized to promote specific outcomes to political issues.

Madison Town Manager Dana Berry said all closed-door sessions with selectmen have occurred “under the guidelines of what’s specifically allowed in the law.”

“There are times when discussing things in a public manner could negatively impact a town,” he said. “Any action taken during executive session must be voted on in an open session.”

The town has received the request for all relevant pipeline paperwork, he said, and “we will be responding to that within the time frame that’s allowed by law.”

In response to Kennebec Valley Gas’ complaint that the town didn’t let its representatives speak at two public hearings, he said, “This is not a Kennebec Valley Gas meeting. It’s a public hearing on the Madison pipeline conducted by the town of Madison.”

“If they want to hold an informational meeting on Kennebec Valley Gas’s pipeline proposal, they’re more than welcome to try to schedule something,” he said.

Considering the poll, he said, “it must add some validity to the feasibility of doing the pipeline when somebody takes enough interest to contact citizens in one way or another and try to influence the vote.”

Bob Hagopian, chairman of selectmen, said he has no problem with people asking survey questions but added, “I may have a problem with if they’re trying to convince you to go one way or another. That’s not really a poll.”

The town plans to hold a public hearing about the pipeline at 6:30 p.m. today at Madison Area Junior High School.

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

[email protected]

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