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Montville - The negative associations conjured up by the words "Rand-Whitney Containerboard" have spurred Republican Town Councilor Tom McNally and Independence for Montville Town Councilor Kathy Pollard to do some old-fashioned political outreach.
The two politicians have joined forces with other residents to collect signatures for a petition that would either repeal the council's acceptance of a $5 million grant or force a town meeting vote to do that.
After calling everyone in her phone to talk about the town's plans to use the money to build a wastewater pretreatment system on Rand-Whitney Containerboard's property, Pollard said she started pulling up to people picking weeds in their yards to introduce herself and explain the issue.
McNally put in hours at the transfer station collecting signatures for the petition, and other well-known Montville conservatives - former Mayor Russ Beetham and former Town Councilors Jim Andriote, Donna Jacobson and Dana McFee - have also been collecting signatures.
They say they are troubled by the fact that the technology, which will clean and neutralize Rand-Whitney's wastewater, will be located on the Rand-Whitney's property.
Democrats, who unanimously supported the grant's acceptance, argue that the technology will be owned by the town and operated by a third party, which Town Attorney Matthew Auger said will provide a "legal barrier" between the town and the company.
The town was involved in a lawsuit with Rand-Whitney over sewage fees and contractual issues for years, a fight which eventually ended with the town paying an $11.7 million settlement.
Although the town plans to build the technology on the company's property - which Water Pollution Control Authority officials argue is the best engineering decision - Auger said that the town's acceptance of the grant from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection does not require them to build the advanced pretreatment system in any given location.
"All we're doing tonight is saying 'yes' to $5 million," Auger told the Town Council when it approved the grant in a mid-March meeting.
But those arguments aren't reassuring opponents - or, apparently, to the residents they've been approaching.
Pollard estimates they have gathered nearly 300 signatures even without those collected by McNally. The only people who have refused to sign Pollard's petition, she said, were Rand-Whitney employees - although she also discourages town or school employees from getting involved.
All you have to do is say the words "Rand-Whitney" and people are ready to sign, said Pollard.
"They know why their taxes are high ... I just can't believe (the council is) doing this. There's not going to be a middle-man on this earth who can go against Rand-Whitney," she said referring to the third-party operator.
For the petition to take effect, opponents need to collect 500 signatures by 4 p.m. Wednesday. Pollard has placed an anti-Rand-Whitney sign in front of her house at 126 Maple Ave. and hopes residents will stop by to add their names to the petition.
McNally worked for the WPCA until he was fired in June 2012, after which he sued the town and reached a settlement last year.
McNally said he doesn't find the technological arguments for having the pretreatment system on Rand-Whitney property convincing. He also alleged that a lobbyist for the company secured the grant for Montville and that, although not legally required to put the technology on Rand-Whitney's property, the councilors have been coerced into doing so.
"This is a win-win for Rand-Whitney," said McNally, who isn't reassured by the fact that the equipment will be operated by a third-party engineering contractor.
Town Council Chairman Joe Jaskiewicz, a Democrat, said the opponents' arguments amount to an outdated grudge against Rand-Whitney.
"This is a good grant," said Jaskiewicz, who reiterated the WPCA's stance that putting the technology on Rand-Whitney's property is the best engineering solution. "Truthfully, I don't understand what all this hubbub is all about."