‘State prioritized cash received from sale of this land over highest and best use of site’

Camden disappointed with state’s rejection of solar farm initiative

Tue, 05/28/2019 - 2:30pm

    AUGUSTA — Two days after receiving a $1 offer from Camden to purchase a 12-acre former Superfund site in South Hope so the town could potentially site a solar farm there, the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial  Services chose instead to sell the parcel for $60,000 to an abutter.

    “Camden’s offer of $1, and the proposed conditions placed on the sale, versus the full value of $60,000 from the abutter resulted in an award and commitment to the high offer,” said David Heidrich, Jr., director of communications for the Department of Administrative and Financial Services. “Camden's efforts related to clean energy are commendable, and we look forward to opportunities to work with them on this and other initiatives in the future.”

    Camden learned of the state’s decision Friday morning, May 24. By Friday afternoon, Heidrich said that while the contract had yet to be signed, the deal was moving forward and Camden was out, unless circumstances changed.

    This news, received via an email from the state’s broker, the Boulous Company, was met was disappointment at the Camden Town Office.

    Just earlier in the week, the Camden Select Board had exited a closed door meeting and voted unanimously to make the offer on the South Hope parcel in order to build a large solar farm there. (Read Camden makes $1 offer on South Hope land, hopes to establish solar energy project there)

    “We are incredibly disappointed that DAFS and the Office of Innovation were not interested in partnering with the Town of Camden on a project that would help fulfill so many of the Governor’s energy and environmental goals,” said Camden Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell, who did not mince words in describing the department’s decision as short-sighted.

    The role of the financial department for the state is to be “the principal fiscal advisor to Governor Janet T. Mills, prepare the state budget, coordinate the financial planning and programing activities of state agencies, and advise the Maine Legislature on the financial statutes of state government.”

    According to Caler-Bell, the department’s deputy commissioner, Dick Thompson, had made the choice between the $60,000 offer and Camden’s $1 offer, and she wonders what the value decision was.

    “The state government prioritized the cash received from the sale of this land over the highest and best use of this site, which is frustratingly short sighted and demonstrates a lack of flexibility and creativity,” she said, citing the growing emphasis on alternative energy generation.

    Camden wants to expand its solar power infrastructure and looked to the former Superfund site, which, for environmental and public health considerations, has restrictions and limitations on its development.

    While Heidrich said the purchase and sales agreement had been signed, no final contract had yet been formalized.

    He said the the conditions placed on the real estate offer by Camden, which rested on Camden voter approval, “would have made it difficult.”

    He declined to say who made the competing offer on the land, but said that the process of choosing between involved a broker’s assessment.

    “The first step in that process is to complete a broker opinion of value that looks at comparable sales and properties in the market area,” he said. “That process helps determine a fair market value for the property, which, in this case, the leadership of both the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Department of Administrative and Financial Services (DAFS) approved to market for sale. The property is then marketed for a minimum of two weeks. The state’s broker accepts all offers for a period of time and reviews them individually with DAFS' Bureau of Real Estate Management.”

    The DEP owns the property because it was a Superfund site, he said.

    “We marketed the property for sale at $60,000 and an abutter, who has an easement through the property, submitted a full offer,” he said.

    “We have accepted that offer with the approval of the Office of the Attorney General, DEP, and the DAFS commissioner's office. Once the closing on the property occurs, the proceeds will be deposited with the Department of Environmental Protection to be a resource to their Maine Uncontrolled Sites Fund, less broker and closing fees, as directed in the court order.” (See attached)

    The justification for going with the monetary offer instead of the solar farm proposal, which would have offered the state an electric vehicle charging station along Route 17, did little to mollify Camden’s town office.

    “If the Governor wants to be successful in achieving her ambitious energy and emissions goals her departments need to be much more innovative in how they conduct their business,” said Caler-Bell. “Camden is committed to investing in renewable energy. It’s unfortunate the state was unwilling to be our partner in such a unique and exciting project.”

    She added that Camden continues to explore its alternatives for siting solar farms, “and is not willing to give up on this.”

    Reach Editorial Director Lynda Clancy at lyndaclancy@penbaypilot.com; 207-706-6657