The Wiscasset Board of Selectmen will send a letter to the Maine Department of Transportation saying it no longer supports the downtown traffic project in the wake of a townwide vote June 13.
“The townspeople reversed themselves,” Selectman Ben Rines said at the board’s Tuesday, June 20 meeting. “It might be fitting for the board of selectmen to also reverse their vote.”
Selectmen voted 3-2 to reverse their previous vote in support of DOT’s Option 2 for the downtown traffic project, which involves removing on-street parking on Main Street between Middle and Water streets.
Chair Judy Colby and Jeff Slack voted against the motion. Newly elected Selectmen Katharine Martin-Savage and Bob Blagden joined Rines to pass it.
The warrant article, introduced by citizen’s petition, asked if voters “disapprove and reject, by a binding referendum, the changes made by the Maine Department of Transportation to the Route 1/Main Street Option #2 Project approved by voters in June 2016.”
It passed 400-323. The warrant article is not binding, and the DOT is under no obligation to consider the results of the vote, according to the legal advice of both the DOT and Wiscasset.
Resident Ken Kennedy-Patterson said he was shocked by the selectmen’s decision. The warrant article was “biased, ill-written, and full of untruths,” he said.
“I’m appalled the board of selectmen wants to reverse this whole process because of a few bitter, nasty liars,” he said.
The non-binding referendum on the DOT project at Wiscasset’s annual town meeting by referendum in June 2016 passed by a more than 2-to-1 majority. In the wake of the results in 2016, the selectmen voted in support of the project and sent a letter informing the DOT of their support.
Rines said he voted in favor of the project even though he was personally opposed to it. The new vote is in keeping with the board’s practice of honoring the results of townwide votes, he said.
The town office received several complaints about harassment from voters entering the community center during the annual town meeting, including some from parents there to pick up their children, Town Manager Marian Anderson said.
The town might need to consider adopting a policy requiring demonstrators to stay off town property and on the public road while polls are open, Anderson said.
Rines asked Wiscasset Historic Preservation Commission Chair John Reinhardt about the letter commissioners asked the selectmen to send to the DOT to inform the DOT that it would need to apply for a certificate of appropriateness for the downtown traffic project.
The certificate of appropriateness is a requirement of the Wiscasset Historic Preservation Ordinance, which everyone in the historic district must complete, Reinhardt said. The commission’s request was, in part, due to concern over the DOT’s plans to tear down the Haggett Garage, he said.
The DOT, however, has not said it is unwilling to go through the application process for a certificate of appropriateness, Reinhardt said.
“This is putting the cart before the horse,” Lonnie Kennedy-Patterson said about the historic preservation commission’s request. Lonnie Kennedy-Patterson is a member of the public advisory committee that has worked with the DOT for the past several months on the downtown traffic project.
The DOT has been “up front” about the project since it began, and has tried hard to work with the town, Lonnie Kennedy-Patterson said. He said he “is ashamed” of the selectmen who voted to no longer support the project.
“Shame on you,” he said to Blagden, Martin-Savage, and Rines. “That vote was a sham and you know it.”