The Universal Notebook: The over-under on Yarmouth issues

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Moving to Yarmouth in 1982 was one of the best decisions we ever made. The schools are great. There’s a real village center. A fine library. Active and engaged citizens. And the public life of Yarmouth is generally conducted with civility by reasonable people. Even folks who don’t agree with you about much of anything will smile and shake your hand warmly at church on Sunday morning.

I’m assuming this cordiality will prevail as Yarmouth decides some tough and potentially divisive issues in the coming months and years. There are usually one or two local issues to give the old bulls at Mr. Bagel something to talk about in the morning, but at the moment there are at least five.

The most burning question of the day is, “What’s the over-under on the Beth Condon Memorial Pathway?”

Beth was a lovely, 15-year-old girl killed in August 1993 when a drunk driver hit her as she walked along Route 1 with her boyfriend. The town built a walking path to make pedestrians safer along the highway, but a section of the path where it will intersect with East Main Street remains to be built.

Common sense would dictate that the pathway go up and over the East Main Street bridge, but the Maine Department of Transportation insists it can only fund a path under the narrow bridge. DOT thinks that lazy pedestrians will still walk under the bridge even if there’s a safer route over it. By that reasoning, Yarmouth shouldn’t have bothered to build the pathway at all.

Take the over.

Then there’s the question of whether to use an acre and a half of Royal River Park to build more senior housing.

The question pits affordable housing against open space, competing values. There’s organized opposition to the idea. A friend even sent me a computer-generated view of what a 30-unit housing project might look like in the park. Presumably, the point was to generate opposition, but it actually looked pretty good to me.

Yarmouth has plenty of open space, not much affordable housing. So I’m at least willing to listen. There may be a better place downtown to build senior housing, but the real issue is likely to be selling Yarmouth voters on a senior housing project that, because it will use state and federal money, can’t be reserved for current Yarmouth residents.

Two public projects will be competing for our tax dollars in 2012. The Public Works Department needs a new garage, to the tune of $4.8 million. The 10-year old artificial turf playing field at the high school needs to be replaced at a projected cost of $2.4 million. My guess is one of them will lose.

Town garages do not have natural constituents; athletic fields do. The garage is going to be a tough sell. So my money is on the turf. But someone is going to have to explain to me why it’s going to cost twice as much to replace the turf as it did to build the whole complex in the first place.

My favorite long-term local issue is whether to blow up the dams on the Royal River. The turgid, 26-mile river has been dammed up since the 18th century, but there is now talk of removing the dams at Bridge Street and East Elm Street to let the river seek its natural level. We may also get something other than turtles, bloodsuckers and pond scum breeding upstream.

In August, the Bridge Street dam was opened for the first time in eons to draw down the water so the dam could be inspected and folks could see how a free-running Royal River might look. Deep, dark, slow and murky versus shallow, light, fast and clear. No contest. Blow the dams.

Finally, one of the more contentious issues in town apparently just got resolved. Residents of the Applewood subdivision had sued to stop a permitted residential development from being built on Hillside Street, but the lawsuit was withdrawn last week. Presumably, the opponents either ran out of money or suddenly realized that McKearney Village is just Applewood 2011.

The more things change, etc.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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