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Topsham selectmen approve amended language for Swinging Bridge warning sign

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Topsham selectmen approve amended language for Swinging Bridge warning sign

TOPSHAM — The Board of Selectmen unanimously approved amended language Oct. 15 for a multi-purpose warning sign that will stand near the Swinging Bridge to discourage swimmers.

Initial draft language, provided by Nancy Randolph, secretary treasurer of SaveOurSwingingBridge.Org, stated that "It is unsafe to swim in the waters between the hydroelectric dam and the black bridge. Swim only at your own risk and incur all expenses of any rescue efforts on your behalf."

Selectman Sandra Consolini asked whether the town should have ordinance language concerning the enforcement of a person incurring the expenses, adding that "we have nothing to back it up with."

Police Chief Tim Young recommended that that part of the language be stricken from the as-yet-uninstalled sign, while the rest remain; Randolph and the Board of Selectmen agreed. The Brunswick Town Council already made a similar decision concerning the sign that will stand on its side of the river.

The drowning in August of Brian Jewett of Pownal was the latest event to spur concerns about swimming on both the Topsham and Brunswick sides of the Androscoggin River bridge and surrounding shore area. Thirty-year-old Jewett reportedly tried to swim across the river, and his body was found two days later above the hydroelectric dam.

The Board of Selectmen approved the bridge sign itself on Sept. 3. The sign also bans alcoholic beverages around the bridge, noting that drinking in public is prohibited and that violators will be prosecuted.

The sign additionally prohibits climbing on the bridge structure and provides a brief history of the suspension bridge.

Earlier this month the board voted unanimously to install a sign in the small lot near the Swinging Bridge that will ban parking there between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Complaints from neighbors about late-night activity triggered the action.

Later in last week's meeting, the board addressed an item concerning the barring or conditional allowance of any future large-scale, open-field recycling facilities in Topsham. Consolini brought the matter before the board in response to a fire that occurred at the Grimmel Industries metal recycling business on Sept. 9. It was the fifth fire to erupt at the site in the past 14 years.

"I've been told that that's the nature of the beast of this type of recycling, and in my mind, if it's a beast, you've got to contain it," Consolini said.

She also pointed out that she did not want to target Grimmel, but only future facilities, saying she thought one was enough for Topsham.

Selectman Jim Trusiani argued that the Board of Selectmen is not the entity that writes the Comprehensive Plan and zoning rules, conducts site plan reviews and grants subdivision approvals.

"If there's a lot of people concerned about (those kind of facilities), there are ways to go about that," he said. "But to bring it in front of the Board of Selectmen and say that we're not targeting one industry in this town, I don't buy that, and I don't support this board making any language, any changes to what's in the Comprehensive Plan going forward."

Trusiani added that it's the board's job to bring such matters to Town Meeting for residents to decide.

Town Planner Rich Roedner said the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee has been reviewing industrial districts, determining which uses are most appropriate for the coming decades. Asked by Consolini if the town could grandfather Grimmel and bar future businesses of that type, Roedner said that could be one outcome of what the committee recommends prior to a Town Meeting vote.

Trusiani's motion, for the Board of Selectmen to take no action on the matter and instruct no town staff to move forward with any related language, was approved 3-1. He, Chairman Ron Riendeau and Steve Edmondson voted in favor, and Consolini in opposition. Fifth selectman Michelle Derr was absent.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.