BATH — Voters could decide in an April special election who will fill vacancies on the City Council and in the state House of Representatives.
The City Council on Wednesday also took no action regarding a request for a railroad quiet zone, and approved putting a city-acquired house up for sale.
In their Feb. 6 meeting councilors issued a declaration to Gov. Janet Mills regarding the Feb. 1 resignation of former state Rep. Jennifer DeChant, D-Bath, and the Jan. 29 death of Councilor Bernie Wyman.
A moment of silence was held at the beginning of the meeting for Wyman, who after 24 years was Bath’s longest-serving councilor. A vase of flowers sat on his empty desk in the Council Chambers.
City officials expected to receive Thursday, Feb. 7, after The Forecaster’s deadline, a proclamation from the state for a special election. City Clerk Mary Howe said during the meeting that the date could be April 2.
City Manager Peter Owen reported to the council on his response to Scott Massey’s request for a quiet railroad zone in Kennebec Circle.
Massey lives near a private driveway crossing; train whistles blow there and at nearby trestles over Old Brunswick Road and Whiskeag Creek, Owen said.
Massey submitted an unofficial petition asking the council to request the quiet zone from the Federal Railroad Association. Owen said it was informal because it was not certified by the city clerk; Massey said he was unaware that had to happen.
“It doesn’t mean the council shouldn’t address it,” Owen noted. “It just means the council doesn’t have to take any action.”
The petition has 19 signatures, including from Douglas Soucie of Old Brunswick Road, whose driveway is crossed by the railway.
Research by city staff – which included consultations with railroad, federal, state and town agencies – concluded that trains must blow two long whistles and one short one at open crossings, and although soundings have to cease through a quiet zone, safety measures must be in place to make vehicles and pedestrians aware of an oncoming train.
Those include bells, flashing lights, and gates that descend when a train approaches. Gates were previously installed in a quiet zone on North Street, Owen said.
A required engineering study, completed to Federal Railroad Administration specifications, could cost up to $20,000, and the physical improvements could be as much as $100,000, Owen reported.
But while such measures tend to be installed at public crossings, where municipalities have some jurisdiction over adjacent roads, Massey’s request “involves your neighbor’s private driveway, which somewhat complicates matters, as you are asking the City to spend public dollars on a private driveway that only affects that single home,” Owen wrote in a Jan. 30 letter to Massey.
“Though we recognize that the train horn is heard by a larger population, the City is prohibited from spending public funds on private property,” the manager added. “Moreover, this request is not being made by the property owner, but by you, as a neighbor, with no decision-making capacity for that land.”
At the two trestles, the locomotive engineer uses discretion on whether to blow a whistle when a person or animal is on the tracks, Owen said Wednesday.
“In this case, they’ve been in the habit of always blowing the whistle, so we’ve asked the engineers specifically if they can reduce the frequency of their whistles,” he explained.
Massey told the council that Great Eastern Railway passenger service to Rockland had blown four, 175-decibel horns at each crossing, eight times a day. Even though that service has ended, he said he is concerned that a potential extension of Amtrak service north through Bath could mean more noise.
“The 175-decibel freight train horns are still really loud and bothersome, and are the reason we are asking for the quiet zone now,” Massey said. “Amtrak will only make the train horn situation much worse.”
Freight trains go through about four or five times a week, he noted.
Aside from some clarifying questions from Councilor David Comeau, there was no further discussion – from council or audience alike – on the matter. With no other questions, Chairwoman Mari Eosco said, “we can talk about having this on another agenda item at a future date.”
The council unanimously authorized selling 505 High St., a single-family home the city acquired through unpaid property taxes. The taxes total nearly $9,700, and there is also an unpaid City of Bath Housing Improvement loan note and mortgage, for which the entire $12,000 principal and accumulated interest remained due, according to Owen.
That property, along with one at 22 Willow St., violated the city’s vacant building ordinance, Code Enforcement Officer Scott Davis informed officials earlier this year. Broken windows would have to be replaced in order for the house to be brought up to compliance, and part of the ceiling is open, he said Wednesday. David said otherwise, the interior is not in bad shape.
Conversely, the Willow Street building is due for demolition.
The High Street property, built in 1900, is assessed at $98,600. It will be offered for sale through a sealed bid.
Bath resident Scott Massey has asked the City Council to consider creating quiet railroad zones near his Kennebec Circle home.