Secession, public safety on agenda for Peaks Island residents

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PORTLAND — The Peaks Island Council will hold two meetings this weekend focusing on public safety and secession from the city.

The council has scheduled a public safety meeting for Friday at 6:30 p.m. at either the Inn on Peaks Island or the MacVane Community Center.

A straw poll and discussion about a possible secession effort will be held at the community center on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The public safety meeting is prompted by recent burglaries, assaults and fires on the island.

The City Council recently cut police coverage on the island in half. Instead of two police officers each working 24-hour shifts, there is only one officer on the island who works with a firefighter to respond to emergencies.

Officer Rob Lauterbach said he considers Friday’s forum a “great opportunity” to meet the new councilors, as well as dissolve the notion that there a crime wave on the island.

“As far as the crime wave you’re hearing about, I can’t say that,” he said. “It’s definately not as big as it is being conveyed.”

Lauterbach said residents are concerned about a few incidents in recent weeks: a fire, a burglary, a home invasion and an assault.

Police arrested Andrei Schneller, 38, and charged him with two counts of burglary, two counts of theft and robbery. An official at the Cumberland County Jail said Schneller was still being held on $1,060 cash bail Tuesday morning. If he posts bail, a condition is that he cannot return to the island.

Island Council Chairman Eric Eaton said islanders are looking forward to opportunity to address city officials, not only about the recent events, but other public safety issues.

“I think it was clearly caused by some of the robberies and the fires that were on the island, but there were a lot of questions that were beyond that,” Eaton said.

Among those issues are why it took police two days to complete what he called a “simple investigation” into the home invasion, Eaton said, and why it takes more than 20 minutes to get firefighters to the island.

Islanders also want to know whether there are houses too far away from fire hydrants, while others have expressed concern about stolen golf carts and juvenile drinking. 

Councilor Kevin Donoghue, who represents the island, defended the city’s response times, but said in an e-mail he is looking forward to the discussion.

“I am often impressed by the speed with which arrests are made in all parts of the city by the Portland Police Department,” he said. “Rather than extrapolate trends from high-profile incidents, I intend to learn what I can from the presentation on Friday night on Peaks Island.”

Secession poll

The discussion and poll Saturday at the MacVane Community Center will be about possibly beginning another secession movement.

Eaton said the island councilors will be present to facilitate that discussion from 9-11 a.m., but stopped short of sponsoring the event. He said the PIC will decide on Friday whether it wants to lead the effort.

The seven-member council was established at the Legislature’s suggestion in 2007, following an unsuccessful secession effort.

Eaton said secession remains a “raw” and “contentious” issue among islanders, some of whom question the urgency of the debate.

“I think people are taken aback by the speed with which this is happening,” he said. “It certainly wasn’t the council’s intent to pick at scabs.”

Eaton said that if residents want to initiate another secession effort, they must meet a Jan. 7 deadline to submit bills to the Legislature. He hopes that regardless of how many people participate in the poll, the council will be informed.

“I’m trying to impress upon people that whether we sponsor it or not, information is never a bad thing,” he said. “It’s never a bad thing to ask people what they think.”

Donoghue declined to discuss the prospect of another secession effort.

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

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