A dispute over the zoning of Westbrook’s Five Star Industrial Park has drawn the attention of Gov. John Baldacci, but his office says the governor is just gathering facts and offering help.
Idexx Laboratories plans to expand in Westbrook by adding a $50 million office building and creating 500 jobs, which would bring its work force to more than 2,000. But the biotech company says it will invest in Westbrook only if the city goes ahead with a proposal to rezone the industrial park, which would prohibit another tenant, Pike Industries, from expanding its quarry and blasting rock.
The dispute has polarized Idexx and Pike, two of Westbrook’s largest taxpayers, and prompted city officials to table action on the rezoning and try to broker a compromise.
Baldacci invited Mayor Colleen Hilton and several other state and city officials to the State House on Friday to discuss the situation. His office said the meeting came after the governor discussed the expansion plan with the head of Idexx.
The governor doesn’t recall whether he or the Idexx executive suggested the meeting, said David Farmer, Baldacci’s spokesman.
Jonathan W. Ayers, president and chief executive officer of Idexx, did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday, but another Idexx official said the company didn’t request the meeting.
Dick Daigle, Idexx’s facilities manager, said Baldacci called Ayers shortly after the expansion proposal was announced last week. He said that even though Idexx didn’t ask the governor to get involved, it is pleased that he did.
Given the size of the company’s proposed investment and the number of jobs, he said, “the state has an interest in helping the community.”
Tony Buxton, a lawyer representing Pike Industries, said he heard rumors about the meeting between Baldacci and Hilton late last week, but Pike hasn’t requested time with the governor.
“It’s obvious that someone else asked (Baldacci) to become involved,” Buxton said. “We’re confident the governor does not have his finger on the scale, and that’s the important thing.”
Farmer said Hilton asked the governor for help getting clarification from the state Department of Environmental Protection on whether blasts in Pike’s quarry could cause contaminated groundwater nearby to leach into a stream.
She also suggested another approach to resolving the dispute, which Baldacci’s office is researching. Farmer said Baldacci and Hilton agreed to keep the alternative approach confidential, until it can be determined whether the idea is viable.
“It’s a way for everybody to come out winning,” Farmer said. The approach does not involve zoning, since the governor considers zoning decisions to be local matters, he said.
Hilton said the meeting focused on the importance of jobs to the local and state economy, but Baldacci didn’t seem to want to dictate a solution to the dispute, which is being addressed by a task force that Hilton has appointed.
“I left the meeting feeling very supported,” Hilton said. “I didn’t leave that meeting feeling we had a directive and I didn’t leave the meeting feeling we were going down the wrong path.”
Farmer said Baldacci wants to find a solution that saves or creates jobs.
“Obviously, you have the potential for several hundred good jobs” if Idexx expands in Westbrook, Farmer said, but Baldacci “understands there’s some conflict there.”
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]