Councilors in Waterville and Winslow this week voted to support a natural gas advisory panel to explore the costs and benefits of a a municipal natural gas district.

Waterville City Manager Michael Roy said the committee, to include representatives from neighboring towns, also would explore the possibility of forming tax increment financing districts in each municipality.

The tax money from the districts would include helping residents and businesses convert heating systems from oil to natural gas and extending gas lines into areas that may be a bit off the beaten track, according to Roy.

“I think it’s important for the towns to compare notes and learn from each other as to how the natural gas system gets expanded in our area,” Roy said. “There is a benefit to all of us to collaborate on how this energy system gets put into place and what the public policies are that will encourage it.”

Summit Natural Gas of Maine is building a $350 million natural gas pipeline in the Kennebec Valley, connecting this year to Madison Paper Industries in Madison and Huhtamaki on the Waterville and Fairfield town line. Summit is scheduled to connect next year to Sappi in Skowhegan.

Roy explained that, as  with any other TIF district, the owner of the property (in this case Summit) would pay taxes where pipes are laid and a portion of that tax money would go to the municipalities.

Roy and Council Chairman Erik Thomas, D-Ward 4, and  Councilor Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1, would represent Waterville on the committee, Roy said.

Winslow town councilors Tuesday voted to support and participate on a municipal natural gas advisory committee and appointed Winslow Town Manager Michael Heavener and at-large Councilor Ken Fletcher to serve on the committee.

Heavener said he agreed with Roy’s comments about possible uses for money that could be realized from tax increment financing districts.

“Those are all options,” Heavener said. “Obviously, the committee will look at those options or any other options that might exist as far as use, if we decide to TIF.”

The Legislature this year passed a law allowing Waterville, Winslow and adjoining communities to form a pilot gas district.

Roy said voting to support and be part of an advisory committee is probably an interim step in forming a local gas district.

“I’m not saying a local gas district will be formed, but it was decided that this was a first step to see if, in the future, a gas district is a recommended next step,” he said.

Fairfield Town Manager Joshua Reny said councilors in that town will discuss the possibility of being part of the advisory committee when they meet for a workshop Wednesday.

Benton Selectman Antoine Morin said the Board of Selectpersons in that town has not officially voted to become part of the committee.

But the town has been working with Summit and with the other municipalities for the last three or four months to create a natural gas service strategy for Benton, Morin said.

Benton selectmen in March chose Morin to serve as outreach coordinator for natural gas.

“There is a need for each municipality to have a go-to person to act as a clearinghouse of what all the options are and what are the tools because this is a paradigm shift for many people,” Morin said.

Morin said he sent 350 letters to people and businesses in the target area for natural gas — from Johnny’s Selected  Seeds to Benton Elementary School — and he received 80 responses that showed interest in converting to natural gas, he said.

Morin said he speaks to a lot of people about natural gas and those who have lived south of Boston or in the Midwest said they’d be ready to convert tomorrow to natural gas.

“Lifelong Mainers are slightly skeptical — that’s about a universal response,” he said.

Oakland Town Manager Peter Nielsen said he has been communicating with other municipal managers about the effort to form an advisory committee, and he apprised Oakland councilors of that ongoing dialogue.

 He said Oakland Councilor Byron Wrigley Sr. expressed interest in participating on such a panel.

Amy Calder — 861-9247
[email protected]

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