During the fourth vote on the question in 37 years, Westport Island voters accepted a section of North End Road as a town way during annual town meeting Saturday, July 18.
The setting of the meeting was unusual. Voters gathered in the historic town hall and the community church next door to allow for physical distancing. Audiovisual equipment connected the locations.
Voters approved all articles on the warrant with little discussion and no amendments. Chris Cooper, of Alna, moderated.
Most articles passed without discussion. Only four generated questions from voters before passing with little to no opposition.
Article 6, to accept the section of North End Road, repair it, and maintain it going forward, passed, but not without opposition from Third Selectman Ross Norton.
Norton said the section of road had never been a town road. He said it had previously been a county road, but the town had never accepted it as a town road.
“I have no problem with the town maintaining the portion of road,” Norton said after the meeting, but he opposed the language in the article.
The article asked if the town would “confirm that the portion of North End Road from Boatyard Road to the cul de sac at end of road is a ‘town way’ …”
“I did not approve the wording in the warrant article that said it was a town road,” Norton said.
Ralph and Joanna Jacobs, residents of the section of road, have sued the town over the issue.
First Selectman George Richardson Jr. told the voters that if they approved the article, the town would avoid expensive litigation, which it could lose and end up having to maintain the road. He said the cost of the litigation would far exceed the $37,000 the article proposed for reconstruction of the road.
Ralph and Joanna Jacobs had said they would drop the lawsuit if voters approved the article.
“It is up to you to decide,” Richardson told the voters.
The town’s attorney recommended the language of the warrant article.
“I am going to listen to our attorney and vote for the article instead of subjecting the town to an expensive lawsuit we could lose,” Richardson said.
Second Selectman Gerald Bodmer told the voters he too was going to listen to the attorney and vote in favor of the article.
Ralph Jacobs spoke briefly on the history of the issue and asked voters to support the article.
Westport Island Fire Chief Stacey Hutchison spoke in favor of the article, saying a well-maintained road would allow emergency vehicles to respond to calls as quickly as possible.
After about 30 minutes of discussion, the article passed overwhelmingly. The Jacobses said after the meeting that they were pleased with the vote.
Ralph Jacobs, a member of the town’s broadband and cable committee, spoke in favor of Article 17, requesting $20,000 for expenses related to expanding broadband internet access on the island.
Ralph Jacobs said only half of the homes on the island have broadband access and the goal of the committee is to expand access throughout the island.
Article 34 requested $144,552 for the second of three annual payments for the first phase of a long-term paving plan, approved at last year’s town meeting.
Phase one included portions of Doggett Road, Haskell Road, Lord Road, and North End Road.
Residents asked when phase two would begin. James Cromwell, chair of the roads committee, said, “After phase one is paid for next year, phase two should begin in 2022.”
The many articles to pass without discussion included the following: $184,581.70 for snowplowing, sand, and salt; $120,000 for maintenance of town roads; $88,698 for the town’s share of the Wiscasset Transfer Station budget;$56,000 for fire department operations; $28,201 for a loan payment on a fire truck; $25,000 for paving; $16,000 for assessing services; $15,000 for legal fees;$11,482 for ambulance service from Wiscasset; $10,000 for emergency road maintenance; $9,598 for a new generator for the town office; $5,870 for the fourth of 10 annual payments for the Squam Creek Preserve loan; $4,350 for the Wiscasset Public Library; $4,308 for resident status at the Wiscasset Community Center; $3,616 for service organizations; $3,000 for digital tax maps; $1,900 for boards and committees; and $933.40 for Midcoast Humane.
Before adjournment, Richardson thanked Jack Swanton for setting up the audiovisual equipment, Deputy Town Clerk Gaye Wagner and the rest of the town staff for setting up the meeting to meet COVID-19 guidelines, Cooper for conducting the meeting in a timely manner, and the voters for coming out.
Fifty-three voters attended. All wore face masks and observed physical distancing as they approved 47 articles in about 90 minutes.