The Quoddy Tides

Eastport, Maine

2007 Oct XX

Selectmen deny planning board request for land-use lawyer fees

by Eileen Curry

After a work session and property tax abatement adjusted by selectmen and the town assessor's agent, Doug Guy, Perry selectmen were asked to authorize the planning board to spend $490 to cover the cost for interviewing two land-use attorneys who were being considered as counsel for the board.

In a prepared statement, Nancy Asante, the planning board chair, read: "The planning board requires a land-use attorney to advise on revision and update of the town's existing Land Use Ordinance. The attorney may also assist in assuring through the proper review of anticipated applications from Quoddy Bay LLC for liquefied natural gas storage and regasification facility, a send-out pipeline and a housing complex for 1,500 transient workers that have been proposed within Perry's jurisdiction. We determined that for the planning board to act as an independent, quasi-judicial panel in fulfilling these two critical responsibilities, a qualified land-use attorney is required."

Asante continued, "It is also necessary that the attorney selected be independent and unencumbered by potential issues of conflict of interest so that our role can be supported without interference from possible political influence or outside pressure." On behalf of the planning board, Asante requested an amount of $490 — two hours with each attorney, one charging $110 an hour and the other $135 an hour. The two attorneys, according to Asante, were provided by Maine Municipal Association, and "their qualifications were discussed with me over the telephone." Asante told selectmen that interviews would be scheduled as soon as the select board took action on the request.

In a 2–1 vote, Selectwoman Jeanne Guisinger opposed, selectmen turned down the request. Selectman Dick Adams squared off with Asante asking, "Nancy, why do you need a lawyer? Your job is to carry out the policies of the town. We have a lawyer — Eaton Peabody." Asante quickly responded saying, "Dick, we need a lawyer to help us in revising this old 1987 land use development ordinance. The only advice we have is from Judy East [Washington County Council of Governments], and if and when we receive an application from Quoddy Bay LNG, we are going to need help. We have never had to ask for help before; we are asking for help now." Asante also stated that Eaton Peabody's lawyers, Erik Stumpfel and Andrew Hamilton, "don't have the expertise we need," and both lawyers "are not land-use lawyers." Asante noted, "Erik Stumpfel is reluctant to represent us; he has stated that himself." Adams shot back, "There's (sic) 40 attorneys in the firm, Nancy."

David Turner, chairman of the selectmen, read a statement in reply to the request of the planning board. "We need to clarify any confusion regarding attorney representation for the Town of Perry. The town has had a working relationship with Eaton Peabody through engagement letters and several work agreements, most of which have been remissible with Quoddy Bay LNG. Currently the planning board chair has requested that the town consider expending funds for the purpose of interviewing attorneys to work with them on land-use issues. This would not come under the scope of work for reimbursement and require town funds. However, should the planning board ask the town to cover these expenses, we would likely hire Eaton Peabody as that firm is most familiar with our issues. If the planning board is looking for legal advice as how to follow the laws and rules as they pertain to any LNG application, that will be added to the scope of work agreement that the selectmen will include in any future agreement with Eaton Peabody once permits all are submitted."

After the meeting, Asante said, "I'm going to consult with some people to see what the next step will be. I'm very unhappy about this decision." Planning board member John Cook, who was also present at the meeting, said, "I think the planning board is pretty unanimous — well, not unanimous, but the majority of the board is in favor of hiring a lawyer to help us with LNG issues and the land use ordinance."

Tax abatements granted

Selectmen also went over personal property issues and abatements for local taxpayers who had called in with telephone, e-mails and letters disputing their tax bills sent out in July. Assessor's agent Doug Guy worked with selectmen to explain and resolve some of taxpayers' questions about property tax increases in town. Boyden Lake dwellers seemed to be hit the hardest with some tax bills that doubled. Guy went through reasons why adjustments had to be made and, in some cases, changed in favor of the homeowner. Selectmen signed off on $3,334.66 in tax abatements for some 10 or 12 properties. Guy said the funds would be taken from a town overlay account, which "reduces account receivables and is returned with a supplemental tax." The assessor has not completed the process of contacting landowners regarding tax bills.

Selectmen also discussed and took comments about multiple properties, land owned by one owner, and whether or not those properties should or should not be taxed separately. Talk about the possibility of "a complete revaluation on every house" resurfaced. This was a topic discussed at a previous selectmen's meeting, and the issue could be introduced to voters in the future.

Selectmen voted unanimously to grant Pine Tree Cable a five-year plan for service to Perry customers. The company is in the process of being acquired by Time Warner Cable, and Time Warner representatives have been in contact with selectmen stating that they want to "work with the town" during the transition. A hearing was held on October 1 regarding a franchise agreement with the town.

The next Perry selectmen's meeting is on Monday, November 12, at 4 p.m. at the municipal building.


© 2007 The Quoddy Tides
Eastport, Maine
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.