Alna firefighter Paul Crandall responded to none of the car mishaps town officials said happened in a Wednesday, Jan. 5 icing event. He lives on Head Tide Hill Road, the hill had not been sanded and he did not want to be in the Sheepscot River below, Crandall explained at that night’s selectmen’s meeting at the town office and on Zoom. Fire Chief Mike Trask called Holbrook Excavating’s response to the storm “really poor.” He said the fire department responded to car accidents and cars off roads.
It was a “real fail,” First Selectman Ed Pentaleri said of the job the Woolwich firm did that day. “Based on what we saw today, I definitely want to take a look at the contract and ... understand what our recourse is.” He said firm owner Evan Holbrook told him the rain had been supposed to hit Alna at noon. Pentaleri said Holbrook “knows he’s in a hole” with the town now.
“I’m glad not to have heard about anyone getting injured or killed,” Pentaleri said. “I’d rather have us all be good, than to be lucky. But I’ll take lucky in this instance.” Plowing is about public safety, and firefighters were risking themselves due to the accidents they went to, he said. He knew of one car totaled when hit by three or four other cars.
There was a complete lack of anticipation of the conditions that had been predicted for days, Chris Cooper said. “It wasn’t just a morning failure, it was all day long.” Rabbit Path Road became a parking lot, he said. Pentaleri, of Head Tide Hill Road, said it and Rabbit Path Road were priorities and, after speaking with Holbrook before 11 a.m., “I did not see one of his trucks backing up Head Tide Hill Road until just before 1’o clock.”
Trask suggested having Road Commissioner Jeff Verney sand in storms if needed, and paying him out of Holbrook’s plowing contract.
Wiscasset Newspaper has left Holbrook phone messages seeking comment.
Trask said the day’s service matched that of a plow contractor from several years ago whose performance also yielded complaints.
Ralph Hilton said Holbrook “deserves a little bit of leeway” because Woolwich has “a different weather pattern” from Alna, and other out of town contractors have also had issues when Alna’s weather differed from theirs. Pentaleri and Les Fossel said alna.maine.gov has two weather stations on it, Fossel’s and the fire station’s. Fossel, via Zoom “because the roads are just too bad,” said a check of his station in the colder, northern end of town would inform the contractor of conditions there, “regardless of what was happening outside his window.”
Also Jan. 5, selectmen signed Lincoln County’s updated hazard mitigation plan, keeping Alna eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency grants. And the board decided to start a committee to help form and maintain a roadwork plan. Road Commissioner Jeff Verney said a committee might be a waste of time because he knows the state of different roads. A committee would be a piecemeal approach, Hilton said. He said the town needs a new comprehensive plan the roads would be part of.
The longer a road deteriorates, the more the fix will cost, a guest speaker, Maine Department of Transportation’s Peter Coughlan, said. Pentaleri got laughs when he responded to Coughlan’s comment it was good to see a selectmen’s meeting with a lot of attendees. In some towns, just the boards are there, he said. “I’m going to respectfully disagree with you,” Pentaleri said.
“The measure of our eventual success is going to be if we have fewer and fewer people show up.”
Selectmen and attendees later mulled how best to do public comment at meetings, and be more civil. In a departure from several recent meetings, no one yelled.