AUBURN — Mayor Jonathan LaBonte says his city should have some say in Lewiston's plan to take over its downtown canals.
LaBonte said he has been looking over 1984 agreements between the two cities and Central Maine Power Co. on water rights and property taxes on the electricity-generating Monty Hydro station at the head of the falls.
"Nothing that I have yet uncovered in those documents allows Lewiston to unilaterally pull out of that agreement and either provide tax-increment financing or to release the water rights without some sort of compensation for the city of Auburn," LaBonte said at Monday's Auburn City Council meeting.
Lewiston is pursuing a deal to take control of the downtown canal system from NextEra Energy. It would include all of NextEra's water-generating assets along the canal — including those under Bates Mill No. 5, the saw-tooth-roofed building along Main Street.
In exchange, Lewiston would close its last generator — at the end of the Upper Canal and just south of Locust Street — at the Upper Androscoggin Generating Station and surrender its federal license to generate electricity.
Lewiston also plans to create a tax-increment finance district around NextEra's Monty Hydro facility and the Deer Rips Dam. The company plans $2 million in work there and the city's TIF proceeds would be used to pay for repairs at dams, weirs and gates along the canal.
Lewiston City Administrator Ed Barrett said Tuesday he was unaware of LaBonte's claims and declined to comment until he had talked with LaBonte.
LaBonte said he was hoping to meet with Barrett and Lewiston's staff and planned to report back to the Auburn City Council.
"We certainly have legal hands in this arrangement, and I want to make sure our council has the most up-to-date information," LaBonte said.
His claim dates back to 1979, when CMP, Lewiston and Auburn promoted competing plans to build an electricity-generating dam at the Great Falls. The state got involved in 1984 and helped the three develop a tax-sharing agreement.
As part of that agreement, CMP was allowed to start building the Monty hydroelectric facility in 1987, replacing the city of Lewiston-owned plant at the head of the canal. CMP agreed to provide 3.2 million kilowatt-hour credits to the city for streetlights and water pumping and would pay property taxes on the facility. Auburn was given a 17½ percent share of those taxes.
The cities also took control of the Upper Androscoggin facility and its three generators. All have since failed.