Wiscasset selectmen

Residents talk broadband, MAG in hearing

Tue, 05/23/2023 - 8:45am

    Two years ago, Susan Murray moved to Wiscasset from Pennsylvania. Tuesday night, May 16, she stepped up to the microphone at the selectmen’s public hearing on the June 13 town meeting warrant and said she wholeheartedly supports the proposed broadband initiative.

    Broadband’s speed is far superior, she said.

    Then Nicholas Rioux stepped up and said he is a fairly new Wiscasset resident who has since 2000 spent six months a year in Southport. He asked if anyone has looked at its history pursuing broadband. Wiscasset’s broadband committee chair Carla Dickstein addressed the question. She said Southport had pushback to a proposed municipally owned system. She explained municipally owned is not proposed in Wiscasset; the less costly, provider-owned path is being eyed with Fidium, part of Consolidated Communications. And the $183,200 proposed local tab is the least the town could chip in for the provider’s grant request to the state to be competitive, she said.

    The $183,200 from the town will trigger another $100,000 Lincoln County would chip in for the project, committee members said. 

    Wiscasset’s share of the projected $5 million project is a very good investment for the town, Dickstein said. “And it’s the future of this town, because fiber is the premium technology.”

    “I totally agree, because Zooming is in ...,” Rioux said. In other comments in the hearing, Dickstein said the technology is needed for reliable internet, for telehealth and for children’s future. The amount of money available is unprecedented and will not be again “any time soon” so the town needs to take advantage, she said. 

    The question on the warrant, available at wiscasset.org, reads: “Shall the Town vote to appropriate an amount not to exceed $183,200 from the Capital Reserve Account as a Grant Match for State funding for the purpose of providing a Fiber-Optic Broadband Network throughout the Town?” A note adds, “These funds are expected to secure over $5 million in additional state, county and private funding towards the project. The (town) funds will only be expended if the additional funds are received.”

    Fielding questions from Murray, Rioux and others, Consolidated’s Simon Thorne said the first 500 feet from the pole line toward the home are free, and how much it costs to get it the rest of the way varies by obstacles or other specifics. He said to not expect the project before 2025 because by the time Maine Connectivity Authority names grant winners, Consolidated will have already planned its 2024 work.

    MCA’s community capacities manager, Kendra Jo Grindle, told hearing-goers the next round opens in August, with awards at year’s end. Whatever the proposal, the community and a provider must be working together, she said. “The community has to be supportive of that approach ... It’s how we design all of our programs.”

    Town Manager Dennis Simmons praised the committee’s work and called it an example of “what committees can do for this town, and I’d like to see more of that. So thank you, guys, for all your very hard work,” he said to applause.

    Two other June 13 questions that drew comment involve Maine Art Gallery. One proposes appropriating up to $28,800 from capital reserve to match grant funds MAG gets to “preserve, renovate and improve” the former Wiscasset Academy that houses MAG, “including repair (and) painting of exterior woodwork, repair of the cupola and installing exterior storm windows.” MAG’s board of trustees president, Richard Riese, said MAG brings cultural and economic value, such as when gallery-goers eat at local restaurants.

    Riese urged a yes vote on that question and a no vote on a non-binding one that asks about selling the building. He asked for continued support of the 20-year lease “that we won with a 2-1 super majority (in) fall of 2021.”

    Polls will be open at Wiscasset Community Center from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 13.

    Also May 16, selectmen kept Stantec for planning and engineering consulting at Wiscasset Municipal Airport, nodded a pier vendor permit for Optionz ATM, a liquor license for River Shack, 1 Water St., and a business license for TWIYO INC., 291 Federal St., doing business as The World Is Your Oyster; appointed Callie Fairservice deputy harbor master; and named Susan Blagden and Alissa Eason to the appeals board; Allen Cohen and Thomas Joyce, planning board; Lisa Tichy, budget committee; and Cassaundra Rose, Susan Van Alsenoy, Colleen Hendricks, Lisa Tichy, Dusty Jones, Janet Hobbs-Bailey, Leslie Roberts, Marty Fox and Evan Goodkowsky to the new climate action team.

    “I think this gets all of our boards filled, finally,” Simmons said.