Cumberland discontinues primary emergency response to part of Windham

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CUMBERLAND — The Town Council on Monday unanimously suspended primary emergency response services to Windham.

Councilors cited the dangerous condition of some Windham roads.

The panel also appointed a new School Board member to fill a vacancy.

Cumberland as of Dec. 1 plans to end its agreement with Windham, which has been in effect since 1983. It will still assist Windham with mutual aid calls if personnel are available.

Cumberland has been the first responder to Windham homes around Forest Lake, which straddles both towns because Windham’s nearest rescue station is more than seven miles away from the area. Cumberland’s western station is about half a mile away.

“We are truly just looking to try to get some relief for our emergency services crews,” Cumberland Town Manager Bill Shane said Monday, noting that the town has been responding entirely to private roads around the lake, for which state law usually prohibits the use of public funds.

Shane, in emails to Windham Town Manager Tony Plante dating back as far as March 2012, called for improvements to those private roads. He said conditions had worsened to a point where he was concerned about damage to Cumberland vehicles when they respond to calls.

Road grading, pothole repair, installing areas to turn around on dead-end roads and brush cutting were among remedies Shane requested.

A November 2013 email mentioned damage to a Cumberland truck on James Way in Windham after it avoided an oncoming truck and had to move onto a soft shoulder. Plante responded that town officials would talk with property owners on the private roads to address the matter.

“The town of Windham is working diligently to try to resolve those (issues),” Shane explained. “They’re trying to work with the homeowners associations around the lake. And ultimately what we need is better winter maintenance on the roads.”

Windham has paid Cumberland $3,900 annually for its services, a figure that has remained the same since Shane started as manager in 2003, he has said. He has expressed hope that once the issues are resolved, the two towns could revisit and update the agreement next year.

“They’re not far away from being able to comply with what we’ll need to (be able) to send our troops and our equipment into that area, but they’ve still got a lot of hurdles to climb, and they definitely won’t be there before December,” Shane said.

The Windham Town Council has been “very interested” in working with residents of the private roads on the issues, Plante told the Cumberland council Monday.

“We understand where you’re coming from; you have to serve the needs of your community first,” he said. “We appreciate the long-standing relationship between Windham and Cumberland, and we’re looking to do as much as we can to restore that.”

The Windham council in September enacted an emergency moratorium on development on several of the private roads, Plante said.

“This puts at least a halt on further development worsening this problem right now,” he added. “… We’re struggling with private ways that were built before our standards went into effect.”

The Windham council on Tuesday night was expected to establish public easements on most of the roads on the Windham side of Forest Lake, which means “the council indefinitely commits the town to providing winter maintenance,” Plante said.

Plante proposed the Cumberland council bring the matter up again before Dec. 1, and determine at that time how much progress Windham had made.

Windham Town Councilor Donna Chapman expressed her concern about Cumberland’s decision.

“Yes, you’re going to still provide mutual aid, but we’re a little bit further away, and if anything happens to anybody this year, I’m not going to be able to live with it,” Chapman said. “So I don’t know if you’re going to be able to. … I truly hope you’ll reconsider.”

Cumberland Town Councilor Tom Gruber acknowledged Chapman’s concern, noting that “on our watch something could happen as well,” if improvements are not made to the roads, and Cumberland responders are not able to reach a Windham home.

Councilor Bill Stiles also noted the importance of Cumberland responders being able to get out of an emergency scene.

“If circumstances change, we certainly are open,” Council Chairman Peter Bingham said. “But the key word is change.”

Later in the meeting, the council unanimously appointed Mike Brown, chairman of the town’s Shellfish Conservation Committee, to fill a Cumberland vacancy on the School Administrative District 51 Board of Directors.

Four people applied for the position, vacated last month by Pete Wilson.

Brown can continue serving on both panels, Town Clerk Tammy O’Donnell said Tuesday.

Brown said he looks forward to maintaining SAD 51’s reputation.

“I have been trying to get myself up to speed on the issues and challenges we face as a community,” he said Tuesday. “The good news is that there is a very remarkable group of directors, administrators, teachers and staff already in place and I look forward to adding to that stewardship.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

The Cumberland Town Council voted Oct. 12 to rescind the primary response services it has provided Windham for 32 years. Shown here is the part of Windham for which Cumberland provides primary police, fire and emergency medical services.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.