Between The Lines
The sale of the Berlin electric system appears to be in serious jeopardy today, and that's a good thing. Berlin insiders have indicated the town has been privately mulling whether to draft an official letter withdrawing its intent to sell the system. Most officials were mum on the subject this week, for obvious reasons, but Councilman Gee Williams said this week all the options facing the town would be put on the table at next week's Berlin Mayor and Council meeting.
Although a majority of town residents indicated last year they backed selling the system, that slight support has been waning in recent months as the price tag for executing the deal has ballooned. This is not to say the selling price agreed upon with the two utility companies, Choptank and Old Dominion, has abruptly changed. That's unknown, although it may well be the case. It's the expenditures the town has already forked over to negotiate and continue the process of unloading the utility that is reaching ridiculous heights. As of late January, the figure was somewhere around $300,000, but it was cautioned that number did not include every aspect and was obviously dated. It may seem outlandish to say, but I am confident the cost to the town to pull off this deal would exceed the $500,000 mark before the system ever changed hands. And that's simply crazy.
It was never expected this deal would be easy to pull off. Town officials acknowledged it was not going to happen overnight and there would be some bumps along the way, but it was also never thought it would be this difficult. All this wrangling over unknown details says a lot. It's important to remember even if the buyers and the town were able to come to some type of accord the deal would not be ratified until the Public Service Commission puts it under its magnifying glass and holds a local public hearing, which was all along expected to be contentious. It would be wise for town officials to get out of this situation because it's clearly not benefiting the town.
It's no secret town leaders have been showing signs of aggravation with the pace of the process. Mayor Tom Cardinale was candid with his comments last week, indicating Berlin and the potential buyers are not on the same page at this point. He said, 'I'm not caving in to Choptank or ODEC or anybody else just for the sake of getting it over with. We'll wind up with a good agreement or we'll wind up with no agreement.' Councilman Gee Williams was also frank this week, alluding to an impasse in the negotiations but stopping short of reporting they are officially stalled.
By withdrawing its letter of intent to sell the system,
town officials will be essentially taking a step out of a big pile of dung and
stepping into a smaller pile. And yes in the midst of that stride some of the
remnants are going to hit those who supported the sale in the face. This has
backfired. That's clear. However, if a little embarrassment and a slice of
humble pie is what it takes to get the town out of this mess, it's worth it.
Senator Lowell Stoltzfus did it first, but Delegate Jim Mathias seems to have done it best. Both shore legislators flexed their political muscles over the last month, but Mathias seemed to have saved his best for last with a late lobbying effort to rescue the hallmark piece of legislation in his first session. After Stoltzfus was initially successful in getting the Senate to reject the hydraulic dredging ban in the coastal bays, it appears Mathias was able to work some magic and the bill was returned to the Senate floor for a favorable vote with the House agreeing to revise its bill to delay implementation. There was some back and forth among Senators about compensating those fishermen harshly impacted by the bill, but it appears the major change in the bill deals with when it goes into effect. The House voted this week to implement the ban starting in 2008, rather than this year, and that was enough for the bill to pass. As concerning as it is that fishermen will be able to rage on the coastal bays watershed's sea bottom for one more year without having to pause to consider their impact on their future harvest, it's an amicable and rational compromise to delay its implementation till next year.