WINDHAM – Sebago Farms, the large-scale greenhouse and aquaculture project slated for development in North Windham later this year, is on hold due to lack of financing, a company official said this week.

According to John Der Kinderen, who approached the town of Windham in January for permission to build 37 acres of greenhouses in the Quarry Ridge Business Park off Enterprise Drive, the delay has been caused by an inability to secure funding from sources in the European Union, whose debt crisis has been widely reported. While he wouldn’t divulge financial details, cost estimates der Kinderen released in January pegged the project at more than $100 million to build.

“Our financing is indefinitely delayed,” der Kinderen wrote in an email this week. “As you can imagine, that pushes back all of our previous plans. I’m working hard to resolve the situation, but can’t say any more than that.”

Der Kinderen, who represents a Maine-based entrepreneurial firm overseeing the project, clarified the funding issue saying, “All I can say is that it was a European venture capital group that had promised us financing. The reason for the delay was never stated.”

The project was welcomed by local leaders as a potential windfall, a business that would become synonymous with the area, similar to Windham Weaponry, formerly Bushmaster Firearms. In January, der Kinderen addressed the Windham Planning Board to announce the project, which would harvest vegetables and fish in three large greenhouses, one a half-mile long, in a former gravel pit near the Windham-Raymond line.

In intervening months, when contacted for project updates, der Kinderen said he was working with state regulators to work out the specifics of the proposal, which promises zero emissions – der Kinderen aims to recycle waste from the aquaculture operation to grow vegetables such as lettuce and peppers. Products would be sold under the Sebago Farms logo to supermarkets and institutions in the Northeast, he said.

The funding delay doesn’t mean the project is a no-go. Not wanting to go into specifics, der Kinderen said he still hopes project funding will come through. The Sebago Farms website also doesn’t reflect any change in plans, and still displays information on the farm and information to obtain employment applications.

Within Windham government, der Kinderen’s project is still on the table, although little action has being taken, since the plan must first gain approvals through regulatory agencies such as Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Initially, der Kinderen requested the project be put on a fast track locally, eyeing a possible opening in late 2012. But since that request, Windham Planning Board members haven’t seen any action. Member Jim Hanscom this week said, “We haven’t done anything on it. Nothing. We’re waiting for them.”

Tom Bartell, Windham’s economic development director, said the town is still staying connected to der Kinderen despite the delay.

“We are keeping in touch with Mr. der Kinderen and he’s keeping in touch with us. He’s letting us know his disappointment in how the financing has gone, but we’re still hopeful things will happen,” Bartell said. “When you’re talking about a lot of money, there’s always complications involved, so I think that’s what Mr. der Kinderen ran into. But we’re ready for them and we’re ready to work with them when the time comes.”

When asked if the European debt crisis is affecting the financing, a topic der Kinderen wouldn’t clarify, Bartell said, “I don’t know. I believe the money was coming from Europe. That was where the major investment was. And to think, a project in some little town in Maine is affected by the Greece elections? It’s all very amazing. We are all connected in one way or another.”

The project engendered a lot of enthusiasm from the business sector, as well as locals wanting good-paying positions at what is promised to be an environmentally friendly manufacturing operation. Bartell doesn’t fault der Kinderen for going public with the plan prior to securing financing saying, “You have to [go public] at some point. And the timing was all his,” Bartell said.

A fringe benefit of der Kinderen’s announcement in January, Bartell said, was that it highlighted the Quarry Ridge Business Park, which is owned by R.J. Grondin and located alongside a major transportation corridor, has immediate access to the natural gas pipeline and is a level, open space in an enterprise development zone that allows for more zoning uses.

“I think it drew attention to the advantages of the Quarry Ridge Business Park and the enterprise development district we have up there,” Bartell said. “So what we need to do now is continue to build the Quarry Ridge Business Park’s reputation and accessibility to infrastructure that other businesses will need. And hopefully something will come of Sebago Farms.”

Sebago Farms, as proposed in January, would consist of three greenhouses, the longest of which, at bottom, would be nearly a half-mile long. Fish would be grown to maturity in 48 pools located in the shortest of the greenhouses, at top. However, the owner of Sebago Farms reported this week that he is having trouble securing financing for the massive project. (Courtesy image)
John der Kinderen, owner of WNWN (which stands for Win-Win; and
Waste Not, Want Not), is the principal owner of the proposed Sebago
Farms in North Windham.

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