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Enough is Enough: The benefits of a deal with Casella: jobs, tax revenue, control

By Robert E. Macdonald

Mayor of Lewiston

This is part two of a response to an article by Hilary Lister, “Out-of-state waste to be allowed at proposed Casella processing facility,” which ran on Page 1 in the January 3 issue of Twin City TIMES.

Lister paraphrased Dan Mynahan, questioning whether the City of Lewiston was getting a good deal by leasing property to Casella in a high-value area near the Turnpike. (She never explained what the “deal” is.)

The property in question is immediately adjacent to our landfill and drop-off area. It is in an industrial setting surrounding by trucking operations and gravel pits. It includes only three acres of land. The building is a concrete industrial structure with limited potential for reuse; probably no use other than materials handling would be feasible. It is currently a non-productive asset. It’s not the site for the next Super Walmart. We’re waiting for your offer!

Lister spent considerable time discussing Casella’s financial status—something that has been raised before and an issue that the city is evaluating. Her understated concern appears to be that, by entering into an agreement, the city will eventually be left holding the bag if Casella goes under. What she doesn’t ask is, what are the actual risks to the city should this occur?

Staff has taken pains to work towards an agreement that protects our interest. First, the city has no money in this deal. We are not paying Casella a dime; nor is Casella benefiting from any city tax breaks or financing. The building, including the new addition, will be owned by the city.

Casella will post performance bonds for any construction they undertake, as well as an overall bond against their obligations under the lease. Should they fail, the city will own an expanded and improved facility and have access to funds to address any problems and issues that might remain. The city, and the public we represent, has nothing at risk.

And, anyway, as Lister points out, “some are speculating whether Casella is setting itself up for government bailouts by trying to make itself too big to fail.” (As an aside, note that such comments such as “some are speculating” and “there was some speculation at the meeting” are a backdoor way of saying almost anything. After all, “some are speculating” that the world is flat.

On any issue, there are complications, things that must be closely considered and evaluated and reasons that individuals may disagree. Throughout the public discussion of this proposal, the staff and council have gathered information, done research and explored alternatives. Comments from the public have been taken seriously and will reflect in any agreement.

Such discussions, however, should be based on facts, not innuendos, statements intended to mislead or those taken out of context.

As we evaluate whether to proceed, we will and should consider the history and finances of the company, but we should do so in the context of the city’s actual risk and how well we are protected by our agreement. We must also consider the benefits: new jobs and tax base, a positive impact on the city’s bottom line, guaranteed low material processing rates, stronger control through provisions in the lease and putting an under used city building back to work. We’ll be discussing it and possibly deciding it soon.

By the way, I’ll save Ms. Lister the need to reply. I’ll summarize her counter argument as presented by John Waters of Greene, another individual who spoke at the last workshop. According to him, large corporations show the same trend in virtually every case. They present two sets of numbers—one showing benefits, the other showing local costs.

In practice, costs go up while benefits go down. In Mr. Water’s world, it is time to say goodbye to Walmart, TD Banknorth, Proctor & Gamble and, maybe, all those private-sector firms out there who employ our citizens and invest in our community.

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