Wiscasset Selectmen

Possible Mason Station abatement

Posted:  
Friday, August 17, 2012 - 12:00pm
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Mason Station, the former steam-electric generating plant that once housed five turbo generators and a maze of equipment that produced needed electricity during World War II, sits idle on the shores of the Sheepscot River with its interior being dismantled and shipped to Guatemala. Photo Courtesy of Karl Marean
Mason Station, the former steam-electric generating plant that once housed five turbo generators and a maze of equipment that produced needed electricity during World War II, sits idle on the shores of the Sheepscot River with its interior being dismantled and shipped to Guatemala. Photo Courtesy of Karl Marean

The 33-acre Mason Station property has been a part of Wiscasset’s history for more than 65 years. It was once Wiscasset's largest employer and the town’s largest taxpayer. However, the lack of taxes received from the current owner has created a problem for the town, and the selectmen have been pressured by the townspeople to take action.

Taxes on the majority of the lots have not been paid for tax years 2007 through 2011; the town has pursued foreclosure on some lots. As of January 1, the outstanding balance for all taxes was $670,000; with interest and costs the amount owed is $750,000. Although the town has foreclosed on all but five lots, it continues to assess property taxes.

According to Wiscasset’s Assessing agent Sue Varney the valuation of town-owned properties is $6.5 million.

On Tuesday, Aug. 28, Wiscasset selectmen will address an abatement request from the owner, Joseph Cotter for the 2010 and 2011 tax year assessment on the lots that have not been foreclosed on. “While we vehemently disagree with the Tyler Technologies inaccurate and unreasonable assessment of our property, we remain committed to paying our fair share,” Cotter wrote.

The property was purchased from Florida Power and Light Company for $3.9 million in 2004. Tyler Technologies was hired by the town in 2007 to do a complete revaluation of all town properties. According to Varney, the town did not agree with Tyler’s assessment of the Mason Station properties either, and in 2008 abated 50 percent of the Tyler’s assessment on lots that did not have Department of Environmental approval. This amounted to a decrease in valuation of approximately $2.5 million. Wiscasset’s mil rate was 13.6 percent in 2008 and Mason Station's abatement was approximately a $34,059 decrease in their tax bill.  

The Mason Station property was sold to National Resources, based in Greenwich, Conn., that specializes in remediation and redevelopment of former industrial sites.

With the Mason Station sale town officials were very excited with the hope that the defunct power plant and the surrounding land would bring economic growth to the town.

Even before crews from Guatemala began removing the equipment from the Mason Station building, ideas were being floated for new mixed office and light industrial development, single and multi-family housing, boardwalks, retail shops, offices, a culinary institute and full service marina. Unfortunately for the town and for the new owner, that never happened.

The selectmen have discussed whether to take the town properties off the tax rolls or to continue to tax the properties. Should the selectmen decide to change the title of the land from the current owner to the town it would create a substantial increase in the town’s mil rate. If the property is no longer in the owner’s name and the town takes possession, taxes cease to accrue, and the property is taken off the tax roll.

The Mason Station building is still owned by Mason Station and the owner is asking for abatement on the building as well as the other lots on the site.

“The assessment of this project is a difficult process for any appraiser or assessor,” Alex Barboni said during a recent interview. Barboni is the U.S.A. representative for the Guatemalan company removing the electrical generating equipment from inside the Mason Station building. “I feel Wiscasset has a very good assessor that is reviewing the project,” he said.

Currently the Mason Station building is assessed at $1.563 million.

Varney said during a telephone interview Monday afternoon, the selectmen recently visited the building, and perhaps some adjustments will be made in the assessment, but to date, no decisions have been made.

“This is a difficult task before the town, but the current assessments need a major reduction in my opinion,” Barboni said.

The Mason Station coal-fired power plant built in the early 40s started producing electricity just three weeks after the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, with the capability of producing 153,500 kilowatts giving it the status, at that time, of Maine’s second largest electric generating plant, W.D. Wyman Station in Yarmouth was the largest with a capacity of 225,000 kilowatts.

Central Maine Power and Wiscasset were good neighbors for many years. The Mason Station was many things to the community. It brought economic growth to the town and livelihood to its employees. It produced electricity at a time when it was needed most, and, being the largest taxpayer in town, it helped keep the mil rate low for other taxpayers.

For several years in the 1970s, Maine Salmon Farms raised Pacific Coho salmon in the warm water outflow from Mason steam station in Wiscasset. The warm water prevented icing and allowed the young fish to grow even in the cold winter months.