Alna changes plow firms, sets vote to ask for $50k more in legal costs

Latest turn in Golden Ridge Sportsman’s Club dock issue
Thu, 06/11/2020 - 8:45am

Alna selectmen are asking voters at the polls July 14 for another $50,000 for legal costs. “I hope that’s enough,” Second Selectman Doug Baston said via Zoom June 10 as the board set the referendum.

Selectmen said the town has racked up about $25,000 in legal costs so far this fiscal year that started in February. Except for about $1,000 to get a tax anticipation note and $1,350 for Bob Faunce’s help with planning board bylaws, the costs have mostly been for town attorney Amanda Meader’s help fielding issues residents have raised with Jeff Spinney’s dock and ramp application, selectmen said. 

Selectmen said a lot of that has been responding to residents’ information requests. Recent costs also include Meader’s help with a public hearing, and her help determining if Spinney’s Golden Ridge Sportsman’s Club needs a business permit as several residents have maintained. June 10, Baston and Third Selectman Greg Shute accepted Meader’s recommendation the club lacks the revenue and services to be a business as the town’s building code defines it. First Selectman Melissa Spinney, Jeff Spinney’s wife, did not vote.

Joining the meeting by phone, Meader called the ordinance broad and noted sometimes towns refine their rules.

“You’re always sort of fighting the last war,” Baston said, citing his planning board years. “You find an issue like this you never thought was going to be an issue, and you fix it, but then something else pops up ... There’s no perfect ordinance. That’s what keeps lawyers and courts in business.”

Cathy Johnson is one of the dozens of residents who have long questioned Jeff Spinney’s proposal. Reached by phone after the meeting, she said: “We’re very disappointed” with the select board’s decision. “It’s clear that the (club’s activities) have the potential to have a significant impact on the Sheepscot River,” and many legal issues “absolutely” remain besides the business question, she said.

Johnson reiterated the residents’ stance the proposal does not meet zoning on multiple fronts; Spinney and his lawyer have maintained it does. The planning board resumes the public hearing at 6 p.m. June 18 on Zoom.

Also reached by phone, Jeff Spinney said: “I feel the decision is appropriate based on the law ... Things are not decided in a subjective manner ... It’s done consistently based on the actual law,” and there is a process for change, “but that doesn’t affect what’s currently in play ... I’m not going to allow this (proposal) to get hijacked.”

Selectmen said the holding the legal costs referendum July 14, state primary day, saves election costs and spares taxpayers a second tax bill. Spinney said the town will commit taxes after the referendum.

Selectmen changed plowing firms from longtime contract-holder Hagar Enterprises of Damariscotta to Holbrook Excavating of Woolwich. Selectman Spinney said in a phone interview post-meeting, attracting five bidders was wonderful. She credited a plowing committee’s efforts and the board changing when and how it seeks bids. “And I think it paid off.”

Selectmen said Hagar’s contract last year was for about $201,000; for the next three years, Hagar bid $205,326, $213,559 and $218,550 and was not one of the finalists the board sought best and final offers from. Holbrook’s was for $185,600, $189,312 and $193,098; the firm came well-recommended, Baston said.

Reached later, owner Evan Holbrook said the firm was honored to be chosen. The firm has plowed before in Woolwich and Dresden, which were bigger jobs, and Arrowsic, a smaller job than Alna. The firm prefers plowing towns – a better schedule than plowing businesses, which need the snow hauled, he said.

Holbrook noted his great grandmother Gertrude Tarr grew up in Alna. “We landed in the Wiscasset area in 1751, so we’ve got a deep history in the area and we haven’t gone far,” he added. Tarr married Holbrook’s great grandfather Edwin Holbrook of Wiscasset, where the couple lived before buying the Woolwich property Evan Holbrook still lives on.

Selectmen discussed writing a letter of thanks to Hagar co-owner Seth Hagar for doing a good job and for his willingness to work with the board over the years. In picking a firm, the board wanted to “get the best bargain while still getting the same level of service for the town,” Shute said.