Special town meeting set for Harpswell water tower

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HARPSWELL —  In the wake of the Board of Selectmen’s rejection of their petition to save the Mitchell Field water tower last month, a nonprofit group has called a special town meeting to repeal a vote to demolish the structure.

In response to board’s decision not to reverse their vote on June 14, Friends of Mitchell Field member Dorothy Rosenberg announced the group would be holding a special town meeting Aug. 11.

During a meeting regarding the petition May 2, Town Attorney Amy Tchao told selectmen if they rejected the petition that day, under Maine law Friends of Mitchell Field could seek a special town meeting via a notary public.

To prevent the additional town meeting from going forward, Tchao said the board would likely need to go to court to ask for a “declaratory judgment.”

On June 19, Rosenberg said her group would also be holding a required public hearing on July 28 before the special town meeting.

During the hearing, the group would outline the reasons members feel the rejection of the petition was “unreasonable,” as well as discuss the pros and cons of keeping or demolishing the tower.

She also said if residents were to again vote to demolish the tower in August, her group would cease its efforts.

“(We’d) say we’re sorry and it’s over,” she said.

On June 14, selectmen chose not to reconsider their rejection of the 351-signature petition submitted to the town by the local nonprofit Friends of Mitchell Field. The petition was in response to a vote at town meeting on March 10, during which Harpswell residents voted to demolish the tower.

At the same meeting, board members decided to table action on rewarding a contract to Michigan-based Iseler Demolition, Inc. for the demolition of the structure for two weeks in order to seek guidance from the town attorney.

The petition asked for voters to have an opportunity to repeal the demolition decision in a future election, and allow residents to authorize selectmen to enter into a five-year agreement with the Friends’ group to lease the tower.

The new warrant article seeks to find out if voters will repeal the decision made at the March meeting, and authorize the Select Board to enter into an agreement with Friends of Mitchell Field to “undertake initial repairs” of the tower and “fully explore cellphone transmission” from the structure.

The cost of the repairs, the article states, would be funded by the nonprofit from contributions and grants, with “no effect” on the town budget. It also says any net operating revenues from cell phone service will be directly payable to the town. The agreement would be for five years, with an extension subject to Select Board approval.

On June 19, Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said via email that “the situation is under legal review” by the town attorney’s office.

In addition to other reasons, a key part of the nonprofit’s argument for wanting another vote, according to Rosenberg, is discrepancies in information available to the public about the tower’s lead levels.

Including a test that was conducted recently on paint chips from the water tower, Rosenberg said six samples have come back showing low lead levels.

The information is significant, she said, because of its bearing on the cost of demolishing or renovating the tower. If the lead levels were high, extra precautions would need to be taken when demolishing the structure; if they were low, the cost of demolishing or renovating would be less.

“If there is not high lead on the tower, then the cost of renovating or remodeling it is basically about half,” she said. “What we’re saying is that was an important piece of information that was not available to voters before casting their vote.”

All costs associated with holding the town meeting and hearing will fall on Friends of Mitchell Field, though Rosenberg said June 19 that they are not prohibitive.

“It’s the rental of a hall twice, and printing a very simple paper ballot – basically the expenses involved are quite minor,” she said.

Robert McIntyre, another member of Friends of Mitchell Field, also said June 19 the group had been “really trying hard not to inflame” the issue.

Rosenberg echoed that sentiment, and said the Selectboard reconsidering the rejection of the petition was “very much” the group’s preferred outcome.

“If the Selectboard had chosen to reconsider the rejection of our petition, the petition, at no cost to anyone, would have gone on the November general election ballot,” she said.

At the June 14 meeting, however, Chairman Rick Daniel expressed his doubts that the issue would be over any time soon, after discussing the decision to table awarding the demolition contract.

“I believe it doesn’t matter what we clear – there’ll be the next gate post, the next hurdle,” he said. “Because I believe you and your group are absolutely unwilling to take no for an answer.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

Friends of Mitchell Field, a local nonprofit group that presented the town of Harpswell with a 351-signature petition to save the Mitchell Field water tower, will hold a special town meeting for a re-vote on its demolition Aug. 11.

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