Scarborough effort to regulate roadside memorials raises objections
SCARBOROUGH — Three or four times a week, Kevin Grondin visits and grooms a spot near Payne and Scarborough Downs roads where Steven Delano was fatally injured in a car crash on May 8, 2010.
In another part of town, flowers and spray paint on the bark of a tree on the west side of Gorham Road mark the spot of a collision that killed Alicia Robinson on March 11, 2011.
Makeshift memorials like these may soon have to be marked in more formal and town-sanctioned manners – or removed altogether.
On July 17, town councilors will consider a new policy to regulate roadside memorials. If passed, 4-inch-by-4-inch plaques on posts set 2 feet deep and a foot above the ground will be provided by the town, to be planted as close as a town right of way allows.
Families could attach "other small mementos or emblems" to the posts and one floral display will be permitted. More displays would be allowed in the 10 days around a victim's birthday or wedding anniversary, and at Christmas and Easter. The town could also remove displays on public land and on private land, if requested by an owner.
The proposed policy was moved forward June 19 by the Town Council Rules and Policy Committee. Its members are Councilors Judy Roy and Ed Blaise, with Councilor Jim Benedict as chairman.
Benedict on Monday said the proposed regulations seek a balance between expressions of grief and minimizing potentially hazardous situations. He credited Scarborough Police Chief Robert Moulton will drafting the policy and contacting families most immediately affected by the possible changes.
"The basic problem is driver distraction and safety," Benedict said Monday. "Knowing the chief has spoken with people has made it more acceptable."
The policy draft does not mention the cost, or if families would be charged, but Moulton estimated a post would cost $27, with lettering for a plaque between $27 and $40.
But not everyone finds the proposal acceptable.
Grondin last Thursday said he is offended he was not included in initial conversations with Moulton. He said the Delano memorial, with a blaze orange cross surrounded by a flower bed, is not a public hazard.
"It is respectable, clean, and it will always be that way," Grondin said.
Grondin, Delano and Gorham High School students Kayla Carpenter and Julia Waters were headed to the Gorham High School prom in Portland when their car was hit by a truck.
After it rolled down an embankment the car came to rest on its roof where Grondin now tends donated flowers and materials. The cross is blaze orange because of Delano's love of hunting, and is marked with a Chevrolet emblem for his favorite make of vehicle.
Grondin was hospitalized for three weeks and missed his friend's memorial service and funeral.
"I don't go to the grave site. This is the last place I was with Steve, my best friend," Grondin said.
Delano's mother, Cindy Delano, said she sees both sides.
"I understand what they are saying and doing. But it is my son that was lost, and I love his cross," Delano said Monday. “The kids needed a way to grieve and get through it. They came together at the accident site."
Last December, Grondin put up a Christmas tree that was not removed until early spring. It became a focal point for Benedict's concern about distractions.
Grondin said heavy snow made removing the tree impossible, and suggested drivers could find more hazardous distractions in lights and signs at commercial areas up and down Payne Road.
If councilors pass the policy, it remains unclear if there would be oversight at Delano's memorial site. Grondin and Cindy Delano say the site is on land owned by Scarborough Downs, so it would be up to owner Sharon Terry or her staff to seek removal of the memorial.
"There are those situations where things are done on private property," Moulton, the police chief, admitted, "but some property owners have not been spoken to (before the memorials were placed)."
If the policy is passed, he said Scarborough would be unique in Maine: his research turned up no local ordinances regulating impromptu roadside memorials.
Cindy Delano is adamant the cross should stay at the site, at least until her older son, Scott, completes his second U.S. Army deployment in Afghanistan.
“That cross is not going anywhere until Scott gets home," she said, adding that Scott Delano shares Grondin's commitment to the memorial.
Grondin said he will not give up the site, and promised to pack Town Hall with foes of the policy on July 17.
"They are going to have to pry this from my hands," he vowed.