Residents voted down the coal gasification plant in Wiscasset, but developers haven’t given up yet.
WISCASSET — After winning their fight to block construction of a coal gasification plant, opponents are continuing the battle in the Maine Legislature.
About 30 people gathered on the town dock Wednesday morning to support a bill prohibiting construction of coal power plants in Maine that do not capture 90 percent of the greenhouse gases they produce.
Such a measure would effectively kill any hopes developers have for reviving plans to build the Wiscasset plant. They’ve said they’re not giving up on the idea, despite Tuesday’s vote.
“We need good jobs and industry in the state, but we can’t keep polluting the atmosphere in order to get them,” said Rep. Bruce MacDonald, D-Boothbay, who is proposing the bill.
Scott Houldin, spokesman for the Twin River Energy Center, said his company plans to conduct a community survey to determine why residents voted 868-707 against a zoning amendment that would have allowed them to build the plant.
Twin River needed the amendment — one of four ballot questions on the plan — because at 230 feet tall, the plant would have exceeded the current height limit of 60 feet.
Houldin said that once the survey is finished, his parent company — National RE/sources of Greenwich, Conn. — would consider the cost of conducting more studies before asking the town to sanction a second vote on the project.
A second referendum vote, if it were to occur, would most likely take place next spring, Houldin said.
“Our next step is to understand why people voted no,” Houldin said. “I’ve heard a lot of people say that the project was moving too fast. That does not necessarily mean they are opposed to the project. To me, that says they want to take a deep breath and learn more about it.”
In July, the company announced it wanted to build a plant that could convert coal and wood biomass into a gas that would be burned to power a 700 megawatt generator.
During the months that followed, opponents criticized the project, claiming emissions would harm air quality and that coal shipments would disrupt fishing and boating on the Back and Sheepscot rivers.
On Wednesday, after voters rejected all four ballot questions that would have opened the door to construction of the plant, opponents called on the developer to leave Wiscasset.
“I’ve got one question: What part of ‘no’s don’t they understand,” said Willy Ritch, who organized the Back River Alliance to oppose the plant.
Houldin said the margin of defeat — 161 votes — was not sufficient to convince him the project doesn’t stand a chance.
Houldin said it might be beneficial to conduct further studies.
“We’re not closing the door just yet,” he added.
National RE/sources has begun construction of a maritime village on Wiscasset’s waterfront and owns the i.Park, commercial land that was once part of the former Maine Yankee nuclear power plant site. The coal gasification plant would be built on 50 acres within the i.Park.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Anne Leslie, a Wiscasset resident, expressed hope that Wiscasset can move on.
“I don’t want this issue to divide our town,” Leslie said. “This was not a vote against the maritime village or against the i.Park. We want those projects to succeed. This was a vote for responsible development.”