MADISON — Residents once again will vote on whether to borrow $72 million so their town potentially can build a natural gas pipeline through central Maine.

On Monday night, selectmen accepted petitions carrying 320 signatures from residents who support giving the town-owned pipeline another try.

However, the hour of debate beforehand among residents, selectmen and representatives of competitor Kennebec Valley Gas Co. showed the range of emotions and legal and logistical complexities the project has created.

Selectmen now must set a date for a town meeting where the vote will take place.

One topic of debate Monday centered on whether Madison could use pipeline revenue to offset taxes.

In response to a resident who said it wasn’t legally possible, Lee Bragg, an attorney for the town, said the resident was mistaken. A bill is being developed to make sure of it, he said.

“The legislation hasn’t been drafted, but the intent of the legislation would be to compel the (Maine Public Utilities Commission) to make that happen. As it stands now, there’s nothing to prevent the PUC from making that happen,” Bragg said. The four selectmen present said they would not support a town-owned pipeline if there was no tax relief.

Selectmen and residents also expressed frustration with a new round of calls that a company funded by Kennebec Valley Gas has been making in recent days, asking residents whether they support a town-owned pipeline.

The town’s proposal to borrow $72 million to construct a revenue-generating natural gas pipeline from Richmond to Madison failed by 27 votes on Nov. 8. Residents were split, 724-697.

Madison officials had aimed to use pipeline revenue to offset the town’s general fund. They encountered opposition from Portland-based Kennebec Valley Gas, which also has plans to build a line.

Though Kennebec Valley Gas is proposing the same pipeline, its representatives say it would be risky for Madison to bond for $72 million.

On Monday, Bragg raised the issue of the type of bonds that could be used to fund the pipeline. The town has proposed in the past to use general-obligation bonds, through which the availability of public money is used to guarantee the loan’s repayment. Another option, he said, is to use revenue bonds.

“All you pledge with revenue bonds is the revenue from the pipeline. That is what KV Gas is pledging, to obtain their financing. So it is not a given that the taxpayers would be at risk instantly for $72 million or more, if this passes. I think it’s important to understand that you have an option,” Bragg said.

Even before Monday’s decision to bring the issue back to residents, Kennebec Valley Gas again was contacting residents via a telephone survey. Before the November vote, it helped organize a push poll — a telephone survey purporting to be neutral but, according to critics, actually skewed toward influencing residents to adopt the company’s position.

The recent calls are not meant to sway opinion, said Tony Buxton, an attorney with Preti Flaherty law firm and an investor in Kennebec Valley Gas: “We are making phone calls to identify voters, where people stand on the issue of a revote.”

Not all phone calls may have gone as planned, however. Town Clerk Kathy Estes said an unnamed resident called her at the Town Office on Friday and was upset about what was apparently a Kennebec Valley Gas call. The resident told Estes that she hadn’t wanted to provide her opinion on Madison potentially building the line, so the survey caller asked whether she would like to talk to Selectman Bruce Bristow, to which she answered yes. The caller then hung up.

So the resident phoned the Town Office. “She was upset because she thought she was going to talk to a selectman about it,” Estes said. Bristow said he wanted to make clear he had nothing to do with the call.

“I don’t really like somebody using my name associated with whatever their agenda is,” he said.

Bristow, in addition to other selectmen, also received calls from the phone number 319-432-7596, based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and was asked whether he supported Madison building the line.

Not all those called were asked whether they wanted to talk to selectmen, and some callers were pleasant, he said.

Chairman Bob Hagopian said he received a call from the same number, from a man who said he was from East Madison. The caller yelled at him, tried to argue with him about the pipeline and then hung up, Hagopian said.

“If you have a concern about something, talk to (selectmen) about it, but don’t call them up and start screaming at them,” he said.

Town Manager Dana Berry said he received a call that gave him the option of talking to a selectman.

“I would ask that that possibly cease. I think that’s uncalled for,” he said.

In an interview, Buxton said he apologized for any inappropriate calls, but he added that residents have reached out to him in support of Kennebec Valley Gas.

“I’ve gotten several phone calls from people in Madison asking why we’re not being more active in this,” he said.

Buxton said Kennebec Valley Gas has invested money, time and energy into planning the line.

“We have invested over $100,000 since Nov. 8 and relied on that vote. All we’re trying to do is bring gas to Madison and other communities, and we thought Madison decided not to do that. It is difficult to build a pipeline without this kind of re-vote risk. With it, it makes it much more difficult,” he said.

The company mailed a letter over the weekend to each selectman, asking to meet with the selectman in person to discuss the pipeline. They set a Jan. 23 meeting date.

At the Monday meeting, Buxton used the metaphor of a duel to describe the situation of Madison and Kennebec Valley Gas. Society did away with duels because often both people ended up getting shot, he said.

“If we get into a fight at the PUC,” he said, “we’ll be there for at least a year. … It’s in nobody’s interest to have that happen.”

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