A prominent Democratic legislator who has been pushing for looser state environmental regulations that would allow an Irving family company to mine Bald Mountain in northern Maine received $150,000 in debt relief from another Irving company.

Bankruptcy filings show that state Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, owed Irving Oil $250,000 for gasoline and diesel deliveries and other charges to a convenience store he co-owned under the corporate name Eagle Lake Outfitters in his hometown. The debt was first revealed in a 2012 news story by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting about Martin and a partner filing for bankruptcy protection for their store.

The resolution of the bankruptcy and official reduction of the debt, which the court approved in March 2014, has not previously been reported.Federal bankruptcy court papers show that Irving Oil made a legal motion that resulted in the company receiving only 40 percent – a little over $100,000 – of the amount it claimed was owed by Martin and his business partner.

Martin, 73, a former longtime House speaker, serves on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, where he has promoted changes to mining laws to allow J.D. Irving to excavate an open-pit copper and zinc mine in his district, which includes Fort Kent. In 2012, Martin introduced the first bill to make it easier to mine for valuable minerals on Bald Mountain.

Martin refused to provide information about the bankruptcy when he was asked for details by a MCPIR reporter outside the committee hearing room in the State House complex.

“It’s none of your business,” he replied. “I don’t give a (expletive) what you want. You work for a lousy outfit of people, and I have no intent of talking to you or them. Is that clear?”

Maine’s ethics laws for legislators do not specifically mention bankruptcy debt, nor do they require disclosure of any debt to a creditor incurred by a legislator-owned business.

Irving’s proposed mine has been vigorously opposed by environmental and conservation groups – from the Natural Resources Council of Maine to Trout Unlimited – as well as some Aroostook County residents. On Friday, the environment committee voted to endorse the mining legislation, with Martin and fellow Democratic Rep. Robert S. Duchesne of Hudson joining the committee’s six Republicans in favor of the bill. The remaining four Democrats on the committee and one independent, Portland Rep. Ben Chipman, voted against the bill.

MARTIN: NO CONFLICT OF INTEREST

Martin said in 2012 that there was no conflict of interest between what his store owed Irving Oil and his promotion of J.D. Irving’s interests because the two Canadian conglomerates are legally separate – a point also stressed by a spokesman for J.D. Irving.

Each of the two octogenarian Irving brothers controls one of the distinct business empires, and in recent years the media have chronicled how their personal and business relationships have cooled. But an expert on the Irving companies said the two corporate entities – famous for being secretive – also work together. “Yes, they do cooperate still,” said Jacques Poitras, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation correspondent and author of the 2014 book “Irving vs. Irving.”

Irving Oil was Eagle Lake Outfitters’ largest creditor. Headquartered in Saint John, the oil company is the central unit of a set of corporations owned by billionaire Arthur L. Irving. His brother and fellow billionaire James “J.K.” Irving owns J.D. Irving. Also based in Saint John, it’s the largest of many companies overseen by James D. Irving, J. K’s son. Vast timberlands in New Brunswick and Maine constitute the core of their businesses. Bald Mountain is located within J.D. Irving’s 1,250,000 Maine acres, a holding that makes it the largest landowner in Maine.

Environmentalists fear water pollution from the proposed mine could ruin the relatively unspoiled character of a big part of the North Woods. Besides valuable metals, the mountain has significant amounts of arsenic and sulfide minerals that could contaminate the water table.

Opponents also fear that changes being considered to the mining law would allow other areas in Maine to be mined, including public lands used for recreation.

The Natural Resources Council says that mines throughout the world – including two that operated in Hancock County in the mid-20th century – have a record of pollution, often leaving the public on the hook for costly cleanups.

But J.D. Irving and its supporters argue that contemporary technology can create a non-polluting mine and that a poor part of the state would benefit from the 300 jobs the company says would be created, plus 400 indirect jobs because of increased economic activity in the area. Martin has said that he supports the Bald Mountain development because it would bring jobs to Aroostook County.

Gov. Paul LePage and his Department of Environmental Protection, business groups and many Republican legislators strongly support Irving’s mining proposal.

BANKRUPTCY SETTLEMENT

The bankruptcy papers show that Eagle Lake Outfitters’ creditors other than Irving were owed a total of $45,000. Martin’s partner, Gary Voisine, wouldn’t divulge details about the bankruptcy, but said debts with all the creditors had been settled.

A representative of Tulsa Inc., a gas station and “petroleum services” firm in Van Buren, which was owed $21,000, said it had been paid. A spokesperson for the state Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department said it had been paid the $2,200 it was owed for license fees. Several other creditors did not return phone calls.

In the bankruptcy settlement, Martin and Voisine paid $125,000. Of that, $101,343 went to Irving, and the balance went to court fees and other creditors. Martin and Voisine each own 50 percent of the store

In 2012, Martin told the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting that he and Voisine bought back the Route 11 store for $125,000 they got from “private business equity,” but would not elaborate.

Asked about the arrangement, Voisine said “how I pay off stuff” was not the media’s business.

He angrily denied that there had been any “deal” with the Irving companies. He said “we never owed” $250,000 to Irving Oil but only $100,000. The company had jacked up the amount owed with “lawyer fees for years” and “a bunch of” other charges, he said.

Anthony Banford, a spokesman for Irving Oil, responded: “It’s on the public record that a judgment was granted by a Maine Court in Irving Oil’s favor against Eagle Lake Outfitters for amounts the court agreed were owed to our company.” Banford added that Irving Oil and J.D. Irving are “two separate companies, operated completely independently.” He did not directly address the question of why the company accepted only 40 percent of what it said it was owed.

Martin’s bankruptcy and involvement with the Irving companies were reported during his 2012 campaign for re-election to the House. Following that revelation, he was defeated by a political newcomer. He retook the seat in November. In the 1990s, a ballot-stuffing scandal sent a Martin aide to jail and cost the veteran legislator the speakership.

Jonathan Wayne, director of the state’s Commission on Governmental Ethics and Elections Practices, would not comment on the situation with Martin and Irving. Maine ethics laws don’t specifically mention bankruptcy debt. When asked whether any sections of the ethics laws could apply, Wayne said two sections that address whether a legislator is using his public position to benefit himself or another entity might.

The first one states that it is a violation of legislative ethics when “a Legislator or a member of the Legislator’s immediate family accepts gifts, other than campaign contributions duly recorded as required by law, from persons affected by legislation or who have an interest in an entity affected by proposed legislation and the Legislator knows or reasonably should know that the purpose of the donor in making the gift is to influence the Legislator … or is intended as a reward for action on the Legislator’s part.”

The second section that could apply states that it is a violation of legislative ethics for a legislator to engage in conduct that constitutes an abuse of office or position. That includes “granting or obtaining special privilege, exemption or preferential treatment to or for oneself or another, which privilege, exemption or treatment is not readily available to members of the general community or class to which the beneficiary belongs.”

The current House speaker, Democrat Mark Eves, declined to comment when asked whether he thinks Martin’s actions constitute a conflict of interest.

Rep. Benjamin Chipman, the Portland independent who sits next to Martin in the Environment and Natural Resources Committee room, said Martin probably doesn’t see the debt reduction and his sponsorship of the mining bill as a conflict of interest.

“But other people see it that way,” Chipman said.

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service based in Augusta, can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Web: www.pinetreewatchdog.org


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