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Peaks Island residents pack anti-secession meeting

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Peaks Island residents pack anti-secession meeting

PEAKS ISLAND — More than 150 people turned out Saturday for the first meeting of a group formed to defeat the latest campaign for island secession from Portland, organizers said.

The former Peaks Island Council, meanwhile, has outlined cost-of-living issues on the island and proposed several steps the city can take to avert secession.

Lisa Penalver, an organizer of the anti-secession Peaks Alliance, said the standing-room-only crowd at the MacVane Community Center on Saturday included many residents who supported a 2007 secession effort, but are concerned about the new independence effort.

Penalver said there are several areas of concern in a draft secession bill submitted by Rep. Windol Weaver, R-York, which has not yet cleared the revisor's office of the state Legislature.

Weaver has said the bill will allow islanders to pursue independence from Portland outside of the statutory process. If the bill clears the Legislature and is signed by the governor, islanders will have to ratify the agreement.

The most alarming proposal, Penalver said, is that it would be the Island Independence Council that would choose an arbitrator to work with city and state officials on a separation agreement.

There is also concern, she said, about circumventing state law to accelerate the process.

Options for city

The report released by former PIC member Michael Richards proposes several ways the city can avoid secession.

Among them are relaxing zoning rules to allow residents to build accessory dwelling units. That would allow islanders to generate income to offset their taxes, which the report said doubled after a 2006 revaluation.

Other proposals include hiring more police, fire and emergency personnel for the island, subsidizing ferry fares for island residents and providing more mainland parking for islanders. Freezing property values until homes are sold and conducting an islandwide revaluation are also proposed. 

"The city needs to fish or cut bait," said Richards, who has submitted the report to City Hall.

City Councilor Kevin Donoghue, who represents Peaks Island, said he attended Saturday's meeting and was encouraged by the turnout and the civil tone of the discussion.

Donoghue, who sits on the Housing Committee, said he would be willing to work with islanders to relax zoning rules for accessory dwelling units and other recommendations to avoid secession.

But Donoghue noted that such efforts have failed in the past.

"It was difficult to work on policy issues when every policy issue was a proxy for the secession battle," he said.

Penalver said she feels as though her group has taken the momentum from the Island Independence Council, which believes the secession bill will pass in the new Republican-controlled Legislature.

She said the Peaks Alliance is collecting signatures on a petition for the Legislature and governor, demanding that secessionists follow the process outlined in state statutes.

"We do have tremendous momentum," she said. "However, this bill is in the Legislature. It's not in our control anymore."

Penalver said the group will be examining real estate records to determine how many people have moved to the island since the last secession vote, and how many have left.

That figure will be key, she said, to proving that much has changed since residents voted to secede from the city in 2007.

Meanwhile, after weeks of trying to stay out of the fray, the elected Peaks Island Council is considering becoming a source for information and a moderator for secession talks.

Although one island councilor, Sid Gerard, is also on the IIC, Penalver said the PIC is the island's only hope for objective mediation.

"I don't know that anyone on the island is equipped to be an independent moderator," Penalver said. "They're as close as we can get at this point."

Councilors Gerard, Rusty Foster and Eric Eaton could not be reached for comment.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net