Wiscasset headed to court over MDOT project
The Wiscasset Select Board voted 3-2 Tuesday night to hire an attorney and head to court in hopes of forcing Maine Department of Transportation officials to reconsider parts of the $5 million downtown project including the elimination of Main Street parking and the demolition of the Haggett building.
The board’s decision was the result of selectmen agreeing to reconsider their Oct. 3 vote opposing removal of Main Street parking and other storefront parking. Lonnie Kennedy-Patterson, a member of the Public Advisory Committee, had challenged the vote’s validity. PAC is the locally appointed committee made up of Wiscasset citizens advising MDOT on the project.
Rather than re-voting the earlier motion, three select board members chose to move in a different direction. Copies of a new, much longer motion were made available prior to the vote.
“If the town files this action, it puts MDOT on notice they can’t proceed with their project until we get the downtown parking and other issues resolved,” Selectman Katharine Martin-Savage explained before reading the motion to an audience of about 30 in the hearing room. Several PAC members were there along with a number of downtown business owners.
“Without Main Street parking it’s going to be a ghost town,” Martin-Savage said.
PAC member Seaver Leslie urged all five selectmen to support the motion. “We want to get back to the negotiating table with MDOT,” he said.
Town Manager Marian Anderson said the board had attempted to work out a compromise with MDOT. Anderson, along with Selectmen Ben Rines Jr. and Bob Blagden recently met with MDOT officials in Augusta to air concerns about the loss of parking and the Haggett building.
Anderson said MDOT was willing to consider retaining some Main Street parking and making improvements to a small municipally owned parking lot on Middle Street behind Treats. PAC members weren’t notified of the meeting with MDOT officials. Leslie took issue with that, saying the select board should have contacted PAC members and invited one or two.
Chairman Judy Colby and Jeff Slack voted against Martin’s motion. “I voted no because I’m in favor of the downtown project and have been since it was first proposed,” Colby told the Wiscasset Newspaper. Slack had served as the board’s PAC representative before resigning after the Oct. 3 vote. “I’ve been for this project from the very beginning and would like to see it move forward. I think it’s a little late to be doing this now.”
The board did not discuss how much they’re willing to commit to legal fees. Part two of the three-part motion states: “In retaining counsel, the Town Manager is authorized to use funds approved by the voters by warrant article for legal services, and is further authorized to accept donations of money to the Town to supplement this specific appropriation.”
The motion called for Anderson to retain counsel and file a motion in Maine Superior Court within 24 hours. Nov. 15 is the deadline for contractors to submit bids to MDOT for removal of the Haggett building.