MILBRIDGE, Maine — Town officials and representatives from Mano en Mano, an advocacy group, are headed for a settlement conference Friday at U.S. District Court in Bangor before U.S. Magistrate Margaret J. Kravchuk.
Mano en Mano is building a $1 million multifamily housing unit for permanent agricultural and aquacultural workers in Milbridge, and when voters approved a moratorium on such facilities last year, Mano en Mano sued the town.
The moratorium has since ended with the passage of a new land use ordinance that cleared the way for the housing. Town officials maintained the moratorium was necessary to give the town’s planners an opportunity to create the ordinance.
Mano en Mano, however, charged that because the project may serve Latino workers, the town was operating in a discriminatory fashion.
The town’s planning board, as ordered by a federal judge, continued to review the Mano en Mano application while the lawsuit was active and accepted a preliminary plan for the project last November.
Construction of the housing on Wyman Road is expected to begin this spring.
Details of the settlement have not been disclosed.
In a separate matter, the town has been sued by two residents regarding the way it advertises and conducts public business.
Town meetings held on holidays, without proper notification, votes taken at meetings advertised as public hearings, and the incompatibility of the town’s newly adopted land use ordinance and its existing comprehensive plans prompted Nicholas Giusti and Barbara Waits to file suit in Washington County Superior Court recently.
Giusti did not want to comment on the lawsuit Monday except to say it was not linked to the Mano en Mano issue but rather an attempt to require officials to follow state and federal laws in town operations.
According to the suit, proper notice was not given for a vote taken at a Nov. 16 meeting, which was advertised as a public hearing. At the meeting, a townwide vote was taken on the new land use ordinance. The suit maintains that was improper as was the town’s failure to make sure those voting were registered voters in Milbridge.
The suit also states that what voters actually adopted on Nov. 16 differed greatly from the draft ordinance presented at an Oct. 29 public hearing.
“The land use ordinance passed by the town on Nov. 16, 2009, is in direct and substantial conflict with the purpose of the comprehensive plan,” the suit states.
Giusti was quoted in The Downeast Coastal Press in January as saying he was concerned about the public process town officials either fail to use or ignore. He told the DCP that he did not know whether it was the officials’ ignorance of the law or the aggressive action of special interests that was causing the problems.
In the wake of the lawsuit, Giusti has also formed a citizens watchdog group, Concerned Citizens of Milbridge, to help educate residents and others about civic affairs, municipal law and procedure. The group will be creating a newsletter that will be sent to all Milbridge residents.