Wiscasset has taken a two-pronged approach to its latest efforts to stop Maine Yankee’s tax exemption on parts of its nuclear waste storage facility. Town Manager Dennis Simmons, Selectboard Chair Sarah Whitfield and Selectman Terry Heller weighed in at the Legislature's Joint Committee on Taxation’s Tuesday, Feb. 6 hearing at the State House, on LD 2027, "An Act to Clarify the Property Tax Exemption for Air Pollution Control Facilities."
And Simmons said the town has appealed to Superior Court last fall’s Board of Environmental Protection (BEP), 7-0 upholding of Maine Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Melanie Loyzim’s March decision that items including the canisters holding spent nuclear fuel are tax-exempt. In November, selectmen agreed to that court appeal.
The town had argued to BEP, the items’ primary purpose was storage, not air pollution control; Maine Yankee said its aim was to comply with law and, if the facility was not about protecting the environment, the waste could have gone on a shelf in a warehouse, or been buried in a hole in the backyard. Wiscasset Newspaper reported, some BEP members wished state law had given them more specific guidance. This forced the board to look at legal decisions that “don’t reference the same kind of facility that we’re talking about ... However ... at the end of the day, the primary purpose of the facility is the safe storage to control pollution at Maine Yankee,” BEP Chair Susan Lessard said at the time.
“Fingers crossed, we’re feeling pretty good, so we’ll see” about the bill, Whitfield said in a selectmen’s meeting Feb. 6, hours after the hearing. Whitfield said “quite a few” supporters addressed the committee, which she said will hold a work session and decide if the bill goes to the full legislature. Also commenting on the day’s hearing, Simmons said two speakers, both from Maine Yankee, opposed the bill.
The tax exemption issue arose when Maine Yankee’s and Wiscasset’s longtime deal on what the former nuclear plant pays ran out and the company on March 31 got Loyzim’s OK to exempt the canisters and other items.
According to legislature.maine.gov, the bill is sponsored by Sen. Cameron D. Reny, D – Lincoln County, Rep. Edward J. Polewarczyk, R – Wiscasset and Rep. Allison Hepler, D – Woolwich and would bar a facility that stores spent nuclear fuel from qualifying for property tax exemption as an air pollution control facility.
A resident in the selectmen’s meeting thanked Simmons for a statement the town released urging support of the bill. The statement led her to contact her legislators, Karen Sullivan said. “I appreciated that (statement) so that as a citizen I could somehow make my views known.”
Wiscasset Newspaper sought any comment from Maine Yankee on the court appeal, the bill, or the hearing. Spokesman Kathleen Capstick replied: “We appreciated the opportunity to provide testimony to the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Taxation on Sen. Reny’s legislation. We will continue to provide information and our perspective to the Committee, and we remain committed to reaching a settlement with the Town of Wiscasset on a property tax agreement.”