MADISON — Residents who took no part in planning the town’s previous proposal to build a natural gas pipeline are circulating petitions to bring the issue back to voters.

The people going door to door collecting signatures said they think the referendum vote on Nov. 8 was close enough to warrant another try.

As of Wednesday late afternoon, they had collected 171 verified signatures, Town Clerk Kathy Estes said. They need a minimum of 180 before they can present the petitions to selectmen.

“I think it was too close of a vote not to reconsider it,” said resident Chris Roy, who has been collecting signatures for a couple weeks.

The town’s proposal to borrow $72 million to construct a revenue-generating natural gas pipeline from Richmond to Madison failed by 27 votes in November. Residents were split 724-697. Madison officials had aimed to use pipeline revenue to offset the general fund. They encountered opposition from Portland-based Kennebec Valley Gas Co., which also has plans to build a line.

Roy said a campaign by Madison Taxpayers Against Bad Debt, a group opposed to the town pipeline and funded in part by Kennebec Valley Gas Co., used scare tactics to influence voters.

“The town needs to have more answers for the people for these public hearings to inform (them) that their house isn’t going to be taken, their personal property isn’t going to be taken,” he said.

Madison Taxpayers Against Bad Debt sent at least five mailings before the vote and organized a push poll — a telephone survey that purported to be nuetral but was actually skewed toward influencing residents on the company’s position.

Though Kennebec Valley Gas is proposing essentially the same pipeline, its representatives said it would be too risky for Madison to bond for $72 million and homes in town could be used as collateral in the case of a default.

Town officials replied that the pipeline would be collateral, not residents’ homes. They said bond counsel, which offers a legal opinion on the debt, and the Maine Public Utilities Commission act as safeguards to residents being put at risk.

Though it held public hearings before the vote, the town did not send out fliers promoting its position because it would have required town money to do so. Roy thinks if the town had been able to reach more people, Madison residents “would have been apt to vote yes, not no.”

Roy said the town can build the project through 12 communities cheaper than a private company, because the town is eligible for lower interest rates and doesn’t have to pay sales tax. That could translate into lower rates for consumers of natural gas.

Madison would also not request tax-increment financing districts in each community. Kennebec Valley Gas is trying to arrange TIF districts in each town along the line, which would require municipalities to give back a percentage of new property taxes to the developer to help finance the pipeline.

Farmington and Oakland were voting on the gas company’s TIF proposals Wednesday night.

After Farmingdale rejected the TIF proposal, Kennebec Valley Gas partner Richard Silkman said Monday that the company is looking for a way to build its main line around the town.

Madison officials will not enter into a TIF agreement with Kennbec Valley Gas Co., because just two miles of pipe would be in the town.

Peter Sirois, of Madison, also has been gathering signatures and talking to residents along the way.

“I engaged them. I want to know what they’re thinking,” he said. “They said, ‘I wish we had more information.’ I would say that was the biggest complaint they had against the town.”

He said he explained that the town isn’t going to spend money on a campaign. “They understood that. But what the voters are doing now — they’re expecting to get better information,” he said.

Sirois also took with him the fliers from Madison Taxpayers Against Bad Debt, who had opposed the town’s original proposal. He asked residents, “‘What part of this is information?’ And they couldn’t answer my question,” he said. “I explained to them how photographic images can bend your mind.”

One of the images showed a hook through a $100 bill. In another, a hook pierced a house. Another image showed a pipeline with smoke rising off it, with the statement “Are we being sold a pipe dream?”

Sirois said he supports the Madison pipeline project because he’d rather see a town own it than a private company. A town has to supply the public with information about the line’s operation, he said, and town officials can be voted out if they don’t handle the line to people’s liking.

“The reason I’m supporting it is I’m a firm believer in local control,” he said.

Resident Doug Denico, one member of the opposition group, has spoken out against the risk associated with borrowing $72 million, but he said he doesn’t have a problem with the petitions.

“The message here is I believe in the democratic process because the shoe could be on the other foot. I could be out getting signatures, couldn’t I?” he said.

It’s too early to tell what the opposition group’s response will be, Denico said. “It depends on what the selectmen do.”

According to Eric Conrad, spokesman for the Maine Municipal Association, selectmen have the perogative to bring the pipeline matter to a town vote again if enough petition signatures are collected.

Only in instances where a topic has not been previously voted on would selectmen be required to put the issue to voters.

Selectmen also have the ability to decide whether people will take the vote at a town meeting or in a closed-curtain poll, Conrad said.

Selectman George Elias said he supports the town building the pipeline, but he doesn’t like the idea of bringing back an issue that residents already voted on once.

“If it’s a no vote again, are we going to have another petition?” he said. “No isn’t no-until-it’s-yes.”

If the petitions are submitted in time, Town Manager Dana Berry said selectmen may discuss or vote on the issue at their next meeting at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 27, at the Old Point Avenue facility.

An effort to reach Richard Silkman, a principal at Kennebec Valley Gas, was unsuccessful.

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

[email protected]

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