The Wiscasset Board of Selectmen, on Tuesday, Feb. 13, rejected a consent judgment negotiated by attorneys for the town and the Maine Department of Transportation to resolve the town’s lawsuit against the DOT.
The selectmen and the public heard the details of the consent judgment during a special selectmen’s meeting at the Wiscasset Community Center. The consent judgment was not well-received by the majority of those present.
Attorneys Peter Murray and John Shumadine, representing the town, described the agreement. Under the agreement, the DOT would comply with the Wiscasset Historic Preservation Ordinance and submit an application to the Wiscasset Historic Preservation Commission for a certificate of appropriateness for the demolition of Haggett’s Garage.
If the historic preservation commission denies the application, the DOT will appeal to the Wiscasset Board of Appeals. If the board of appeals also denies the application, the DOT would exclude the demolition of the building and the construction of a parking lot on the site from the project and move forward with the rest of the Option 2 project.
Murray said the DOT had agreed to provide eight parallel parking spaces on Main Street, but when Maine Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt presented the proposal to Gov. Paul LePage, the governor vetoed the eight parking spaces.
Murray said he requested a meeting with the governor, but was told the governor would not entertain such a meeting with litigation pending. If the town accepts the consent agreement, the governor might meet with representatives of the town, according to Murray.
Shumadine spoke about other parts of the consent agreement. The DOT would pay for the installation of traffic lights included in the project, and maintain the lights and pay the electricity bills for the lights. The DOT would also maintain and pay the cost of electric for the traffic light at the intersection of Route 1 and Route 27.
Chair Judy Colby made a motion “to authorize the town attorneys, Peter L. Murray and John B. Shumadine, of Murray, Plumb & Murray, to execute the proposed consent judgment on behalf of the town and present that consent judgment to the Superior Court for approval in Town of Wiscasset v. Maine Department of Transportation.” Selectman Benjamin Rines Jr. seconded the motion.
After the motion, the floor was opened to public comment. First to the podium was James Kochan. “This is a very narrow slice of the entire project, it is not looking at the whole picture,” Kochan said. “We are a home-rule town.” He suggested that the selectmen table the motion and take more time to study the issue.
William Sutter suggested that the voters should decide whether to approve the consent judgment. He said the town would get nothing in the agreement. He said it is not the town’s responsibility to maintain traffic lights, it is the DOT’s.
Sutter asked what the alternative would be if the town rejected the judgment.
Murray said the town could proceed with litigation for an injunction against the DOT project. “It would be a long battle with no guarantee of the outcome,” he said.
Pam Logan said, “We need to step back. We are getting nothing … We need to have a voice.”
Seaver Leslie said the eight parking spaces had been agreed on over a year ago. Now they are gone. “They are taking away the life blood of this community,” he said.
Dick Zieg said, “Perhaps I am the only person here in favor of the project. We are only part of Lincoln County. They are trying to help the whole state. We need to move forward in the 21st century.”
Former Selectman Judy Flanagan said, “I want you to know you are not the only person here that feels that way.”
Most of the people who spoke encouraged the selectmen to move forward with litigation against the DOT.
Selectman Katharine Martin-Savage said she would do everything she could to support the town’s businesses.
Selectman Robert Blagden expressed disappointment in the consent agreement, which he said would give the town next to nothing with little to no compromise.
Selectman Ben Rines said that before moving forward with litigation and accepting a $75,000 donation from a private donor, he would go before the voters with the question. “If they say yes, we will know they want to move forward with the litigation,” Rines said.
Selectman Judy Colby said, speaking for herself, she has been in favor of the Option 2 project. When the board voted to hire legal counsel to ask the DOT to comply with the town ordinance, she said she went in with an open mind.
Colby said she didn’t feel the town should accept a donation from someone who named the town in a lawsuit. The Doering family has offered the donation, and previously named the town as a party of interest in a lawsuit by Doering family-owned companies against the DOT.
Selectman Jefferson Slack did not make any public comment.
Murray was asked to explain why the selectmen have concerns about accepting private donations to pay for litigation.
Murray said it is not illegal for the town to accept private donations. However, when the donor has an interest in the outcome of the litigation, it creates concern, and he doesn’t know if the selectmen want to put themselves in that position.
Colby asked the board if it was ready to vote on the motion. The vote was taken and the motion failed, 3-2. Colby and Slack voted in favor of the consent agreement.
After the vote, Rines moved to hold a special town meeting and ask the voters whether the town should accept any and all donations for the purpose of litigation. The motion carried, 5-0.
Murray advised the selectmen to hold the town meeting as soon as possible.