Nothing musical about the fable of fractionation

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Well, either our eyes were closed to a situation we didn’t wish to acknowledge, or we were unaware of the disaster possible by swallowing promises of the Fractionation Development Center in the community.

So now we have trouble, my friend, trouble right here in the River Valley.

Scott Christiansen has turned into Harold Hill, the flim-flam man of the musical “The Music Man,” and his biorefinery plans are disappearing in a puff of money, just like Hill’s fictional brass bands. Now, after years of touting his technology, Christiansen has decided China or India is a better place to be.

We won’t be attending his bon voyage party.

Is it coincidence his enthusiasm for fractionation, the science of turning forest products into biofuel, evaporated when state lawmakers refused to foot the bill? Attempts by Sen. Bruce Bryant, D-Dixfield, to first secure a $50 million bond, and then $350,000 in annual biorefinery funding, were stymied this past session.

Christiansen says he only intended to stay for a year anyway, before turning over the reins to an assistant director, but decided to stick around for a little longer. (Until the money ran out, it seems.)

We don’t buy this excuse.

What we bought, with Christiansen’s urging, is a fractionation fable, full of promise and wonder, that should have been exposed for fantasy once its preliminary plans for development included facilities everywhere in Maine except Rumford, or anywhere in the River Valley.

Christiansen’s biorefinery was the lone ace remaining in the technology center’s sleeve. As director of the River Valley Growth Council and then the fractionation center, Christiansen spun golden yarns, tantalizing public and politicians alike with tall tales of economic potential.

“The Fractionation Development Center will attract industries that we’ve never had,” glowed Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, during the technology center’s grand opening on Aug. 19, 2004, as part of the chorus of effusive praise heaped on the technology center’s vitality for the River Valley.

Michaud was accurate, sort of, if he meant dental offices and accounting firms, two recent tenants for the technology center. But the congressman meant industries creating more than the 14, or so, jobs the technology center has created so far, far short of its obligation, per the conditions of a $400,000 block grant.

Fractionation was key to fulfilling the return on the taxpayer millions used to renovate an old bag mill in downtown Rumford into the gleaming technology center, and finding subsequent funds to keep it running. With its guru gone, and the proposal in shambles, we wonder where officials go from here.

Some say stay the course, as economic development, in Bryant’s words, is not a 100-yard dash. We have felt differently, as the reality of the center’s present – shoestring budgets, leadership defections, meager staff and unfulfilled expectations – douses optimism about the center’s productivity.

Regardless, there’s trouble.

Terrible trouble, left behind by Christiansen in the River Valley.

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