Graffiti a recurring problem for South Portland sound wall

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The new sound barrier may be providing some residents with some much needed quiet from the Interstate 295.

But the recurring acts of graffiti are giving city leaders and law enforcement a headache. 

Since being constructed last winter, the 3,500 foot long wall has been tagged twice by vandals. In each case, the Maine Department of Transportation has been slow to respond.

Rapid removal of graffiti is widely accepted at the best way to prevent future vandalism.

Two years ago, the city adopted a tough anti-graffiti ordinance that requires landowners to remove graffiti within 48 hours of being notified by the city. If not removed within 10 days, the property would be referred to Code Enforcement as a nuisance property and could be subject to fines.

But the state appears to be an exception to that rule.

While the first instance of graffiti, which occurred in November before the wall was even finished, was covered with a blue tarp for months until temperatures were warm enough to remove the paint, the most recent vandalism has been unattended for three to four weeks.

Officer Jeffrey Caldwell, who helped draft the anti-graffiti ordinance and investigates graffiti in the city, said the state police have taken the vandalism report on the sound wall, since it is the state’s jurisdiction.

But Caldwell is concerned the wall is becoming a magnet for vandals.

“I am very concerned that this will be an ongoing issue,” Caldwell said. “I am trying to work with a business in the area that seems to be attracting graffiti vandals to the area by not removing the graffiti from their building.”

Assistant City Manager Erik Carson said he informed the DOT about the graffiti by phone last week and again this week. While he is still awaiting a response, Carson expects it will be removed as soon as possible.

But that could take some time.

DOT Spokesperson Herb Thompson said graffiti removal is not a priority for the department, which must maintain 8,500 center-line miles of interstate, over 3,000 bridges and other structures.

“There’s a lot of graffiti out there,” Thompson said. “We really don’t want to over-dedicate resources to graffiti.”

Meanwhile, residents seem content to tolerate the visual blight to enjoy auditory peace.

Dawson Street resident Mike Hebert said vandals used to tag the outer perimeter of his parents’ wooden fence, but have stopped with the construction of the sound wall.

Fellows Street resident Arlene McCracken, who cannot see the graffiti from her house, said she enjoys the aesthetics of the wall, as well as its practical purpose.

“I like the design; it looks earthy,” she said. “(The noise) is not as intense. Most of my conversations are not yelling anymore.”

Fellows Street resident Ed McDonough, who lobbied state officials for years to build the sound wall, said he hasn’t noticed the vandalism, which is far away on the northern portion of the wall.

McDonough said graffiti is not a problem as long as it stays where it is and it’s a small trade-off to have a little more piece and quiet. 

“(Vandals) will eventually work their way up,” said McDonough, who noted the DOT’s clear cutting of trees has made the wall less effective. “I’d rather take my chances with graffiti.”

While residents seem tolerant to graffiti, city officials are not.

City Manager Jim Gailey said he is troubled by the failure of the DOT to quickly remove the graffiti.

“I expressed this concern before the wall was constructed and was given the assurances from MDOT that rapid removal would be a practice they would live by,” Gailey said.

While the graffiti is not a “burning issue” politically, Mayor Tom Coward said he is concerned that the thousands of motorists traveling on I-295 may come to associate graffiti with the city.

“It doesn’t add to the image of the city to have that out there,” Coward said.

Thompson said the DOT will remove the graffiti as soon as possible and noted the department is in the process of formalizing a statewide graffiti response plan, which would place emphasis on highly visible areas.

“At this time we don’t have a plan to remove it tomorrow,” Thompson said on Wednesday. “But we will likely be removing it soon.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or

Sidebar Elements

Graffiti has been on the newly constructed sound barrier in South Portland for nearly a month despite a city ordinance requiring rapid removal.