YARMOUTH — The Town Council will vote Nov. 21 on dump fees, a railroad quiet zone and an appropriation for the Economic Development Study Committee.
But councilors on Nov. 7 delayed action on the latest Royal River restoration study, after a half-dozen people denounced the prospect of dam removal.
After several weeks of discussion, the council will vote on whether to institute a $25 annual fee per car for access to the transfer station and recycling center. The council estimates selling between 1,500 and 4,500 stickers, creating between $37,500 and $112,500 in annual revenue.
That would cover between 3 and 10 percent of the town’s solid waste costs, which top $1.1 million a year.
The target start date for the sticker fee would be Jan. 1, 2014, with a target enforcement date of Feb. 1. Councilors will hear public opinion on the sticker fee before voting at the Nov. 21 meeting.
The council briefly considered scheduling another Nov. 21 vote on a proposal by Councilor David Craig to endorse removal of the Bridge Street dam over the Royal River, and to look at removing the Elm Street dam, or at least repairing its fish ladder. The proposal suggested the council begin seeking funding for the projects and consider funding 20 percent, or up to $40,000, of the project on its own.
The town has looked at options for removing the aging dams for years, in part to improve the health of the river and to re-populate it with fish.
“Working on (the Bridge Street dam) while taking time to consider the other variables sounds quite appropriate,” said Landis Hudson, executive director of Maine Rivers, who contributed to the recent Royal River Restoration Study Phase II report on the potential impacts of dam removal.
By the end of last week’s workshop, however, it was unclear how the council might proceed with regard to either of the dams.
A string of business owners, concerned that dam removal would bring a deluge of silt into Yarmouth Harbor and damage their livelihoods, came to the podium to protest the removal of one or both of the dams.
“I’m adamantly opposed to taking down the dams. I think the risk profile is too high for me to stomach at this time because there are a lot of unknowns,” said Steve Arnold, owner of the Yarmouth Boat Yard.
“I think it’s a noble effort, we’re all about the fish estuary, I just think the risks are too great for us in the basin right now for us to say yes,” Arnold said.
Deborah Delp, owner of Yankee Marina, suggested that the council had misinterpreted the results of the recent report and that the removal of either dam could have severe and negative consequences for the harbor.
Councilor Pat Thompson acknowledged that the harbor’s desperate need for dredging – and the lack of local or federal funding for that project – complicates the dam situation.
Councilor Andrew Kittredge asked whether the issue of dam removal should be determined by a voter referendum, rather than a council decision.
Ultimately, Council Chairman Steve Woods moved to table the issue and hold off on any formal response to the latest Royal River study.
Town Manager Nat Tupper presented options for creating a railroad quiet zone in town.
Amtrak’s Downeaster passenger train passes through Yarmouth an average of six times a day between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., and residents have complained about the noise of the train whistle, Tupper said.
Establishment of a quiet zone would prohibit the train from blowing its horn in advance of Yarmouth’s three railroad crossings on Sligo Road, North Road and Elm Street.
To create a quiet zone the town would have to install supplemental safety measures at those crossings. Tupper laid out several options, including additional crossing arms and stationary horns that sound more quietly for a longer duration, all of which would cost several hundred thousand dollars to install and possibly tens of thousands of dollars annually to maintain.
Public safety officials urged the council not to adopt a quiet zone. Fire Chief Michael Robitaille and Sgt. Darryl Watkins noted that people often trespass on the train tracks – dog-walkers, or kids jumping off the trestle during summer – and a quiet zone could put them at risk. Supplemental safety measures at crossings would not offset the lack of a horn for track walkers, they said.
“Our decibels for our (first responder) sirens are much higher than the 90 decibels we’re talking about here, and we get seven to eight calls a day,” Robitaille said. “I don’t see it as a big deal. I think we need to keep it the way it is right now.”
Councilors in the workshop didn’t appear to favor the adoption of a quiet zone, but requested information about how many houses are affected by train whistle noise.
They will vote Nov. 21 whether to allot $2,500 to hire an engineering consultant to determine more specific costs and options for a potential quiet zone.
Councilors will also vote whether to appropriate up to $10,000 for the Economic Development Study Committee to conduct public surveys and hire a professional facilitator, probably former Portland Mayor Pamela Plumb.
The committee was formed in July and charged with recommending to the council an economic development model for Yarmouth that includes a budget, funding sources, a mission and vision, and a concept for an organization to implement that vision.
Councilor James Macleod, speaking for the committee, said the group has met four times and would need until the end of the first quarter of 2014 to make any recommendations.