April 06, 2020

Emery takes heat at debate for LNG role

MACHIAS – Ian Emery of Cutler, who is running for a second term to represent House District 32, told an audience Thursday evening that he works three jobs – as a commercial fisherman, as a lobsterman and diver for sea urchins and as a housepainter.

But it was his fourth role – as a partner in a business plan to bring liquefied natural gas to Calais – that drew heated attention from 70 people who turned out for a political forum at the University of Maine at Machias.

UMM conducted debates among the four candidates for the state Senate District 29 seat representing Washington County, and three pairs of opponents for local House District seats.

The District 30 race features Republican incumbent Howard McFadden of Dennsyville versus Democrat Albion Goodwin of Pembroke. Goodwin, who served the district for eight years before term limits kept him from running in 2004, was absent from the debate.

The District 33 race has two first-time candidates in Republican Joseph Tibbetts of Columbia and Democrat Clifford Norton of Jonesport.

The District 32 race has Democrat Harold Prescott of East Machias challenging Emery.

They all took questions on TABOR, economic development through LNG and racinos, the new 250-foot setback for shore birds, education and spending priorities.

The economic development question posed by Marianne Thibodeau, a UMM librarian, focused on whether candidates supported LNG coming to Washington County. That brought a mix of responses.

Norton said he would support LNG locally, as long as the residents support it. Tibbetts said an LNG facility would bring much-needed jobs. Prescott said he can’t see the proposal for Pleasant Point producing all the jobs that the Oklahoma owners have promised. McFadden said he wanted to see the locals get “good, technical jobs, not just cleaning toilets and sweeping floors.”

Then Emery spoke. He had arrived for the debate 20 minutes late, and said a “schedule conflict” had kept him from being on time.

“I’m pursuing an LNG project in Calais, and this is a tremendous opportunity for this region. There is even talk of a co-generation power plant in Baileyville for the Domtar complex. … I support [LNG] as long as the communities support it.”

But once Ron Mosley, a UMM professor moderating the debate, opened the forum to questions from the floor, Emery was a target.

Don’t Emery’s business interests in LNG present a conflict of interest with his role as a representative, asked Paul Thibeau of East Machias.

Four of the five, Emery included, did not see how Emery’s LNG business interests present a conflict of interest.

Harold Prescott, Emery’s opponent, did.

“I see it as a major conflict of interest,” Prescott said. “We send doctors, lawyers, teachers all to Augusta, but they are already in business. We don’t send people down there to seek out ways to create personal financial gain for themselves.”

In Emery’s 2004 campaign, he had introduced himself as a simple fisherman. In 2005, he announced a partnership with Fred Moore, the Passamaquoddy tribal representative to the Legislature, to bring LNG to Calais.

Moore recently announced he was leaving the Emery project to rejoin the Oklahoma-owned LNG project at Pleasant Point.

Emery’s printed campaign literature that was mailed recently to households in his district and was available on Thursday makes no mention of his LNG interests.

Challenged, Emery said, “This is a citizen Legislature, and I am well within my rights to do business as I please. I have discussed this with the Speaker of the House. … As long as I withhold my votes on LNG, I am well-protected and not violating any rules.

“I didn’t have to run for a second term. I knew this would be a sensitive issue, and I’m willing to risk this kind of public exercise to discuss this. I’m going to see this project through, and I’m going to see Washington County prosper as a result.”

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