m-harpwarrant-011609 Town Meeting warrant taking shape (drop) Selectmen consider border dispute, open space, elections

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HARPSWELL — With about a month to go before finalizing the warrant for Town Meeting, the Board of Selectmen is deciding which issues will go to voters.
Several are sure to trigger debate, particularly the possible revisiting of a border dispute with Brunswick and a committee recommendation to change some elected positions into appointed ones.
Also on tap is the possible voter ratification of a recently created Open Space Plan. While there are no ordinances attached to the plan, proponents view the document as essential to promoting the preservation of the town’s natural and scenic assets.
The plan, initiated by the recent adoption of the town’s Comprehensive Plan, is the result of a two-year effort by a professional consultant, town officials and residents. According to Town Planner Carol Tukey, the plan’s main component is educational.
“Our main economic resource is the marine environment,” Tukey said. “This plan helps explain how land use affects the marine environment.”
Specifically, Tukey said, the document reiterates the importance of shoreland zoning laws, erosion control and the impacts of new construction near the waterfront.
It also designates several focus areas worthy of preservation, including wetlands in the northern edge of town. Tukey said the document highlights the opportunity for conservation easements to protect those areas.
The Board of Selectmen is expected to put the plan before voters during an upcoming meeting.
The board will also have to decide if it wants residents to weigh re-entering a border entanglement with Brunswick. The dispute centers on a slice of intertidal land on Middle Bay and involves harvesting rights to significant clam flat acreage.
Harpswell challenged the border in 1990s, resulting in a drawn out legal battle between it and Brunswick. The matter was thought to be settled in 1998 when the Legislature ratified a compromise between the the towns.
But last year a group of former town leaders and historians known as the Carrying Place Assembly claimed the 1998 settlement was faulty.
While revisiting the issue is sure to provoke more legal battles, the assembly has asked the Board of Selectmen to put the issue before voters. It has also asked the town to provide $5,000 to fund the effort. It originally asked for $25,000.
The board will also decide if voters will have the opportunity to change the process by which some town offices are filled. Possibly up for consideration are treasurer and road commissioner, two traditionally elected positions.
The Governance Committee raised the issue during a three-page report to selectmen. Some committee members supported retaining the election of treasurer, arguing that it has traditionally acted as a check on the Board of Selectmen’s power, that an elected official could be recalled and that appointing an official could result in paying the employee a higher salary.
Proponents arguing for an appointment process said that it would yield the best-qualified applicants, a necessity, they said, in a complex economy.
The Board of Selectmen’s next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the Town Offices on Mountain Road.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net.


• FYI: Harpswell’s proposed Open Space Plan and the Governance Committee’s report on elected offices can be viewed on the town Web site at harpswell.maine.gov.