June 25, 2018
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City, Occupy Bangor reach compromise on use of park

John Clarke Russ | BDN
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Backed by fellow demonstators, Occupy Bangor spokesperson Lawrence Reichard (foreground, left) addresses the media Thursday morning regarding the recent city notice mandating the group's removal of the "event canopies, fire apparatus, and all other associated equipment, structures and items" from Peirce Park next to their library encampment in Bangor.
By Andrew Neff, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — City officials and representatives of Occupy Bangor hammered out a preliminary agreement late Thursday morning allowing the protesters to remain at Peirce Park on a part-time basis, provided Occupy Bangor’s membership agrees to accept it.

“We were unable to come to a consensus at our general assembly meeting this evening and will ask city officials [Friday] morning for our 10 p.m. deadline to be extended to Monday,” said Lawrence Reichard, Occupy Bangor spokesman.

The tentative agreement allows protesters to continue to occupy the park during regular hours — 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. — but they must remove two big tents used for storage from the park by 10 p.m. Sunday. They also must file an application for an event permit with the city by the close of business on Friday.

“I think this is an encouraging development and shows willingness on the part of our city to negotiate with us in good faith,” said Occupy spokeswoman Sunny Skye Hughes after a 70-minute meeting with city officials.

Thursday’s meeting in City Manager Cathy Conlow’s office involved Conlow, newly appointed Mayor Cary Weston, City Solicitor Norm Heitmann, Bangor Parks and Recreation director Tracy Willette, Hughes, Reichard and fellow Occupy spokesperson Valerie Carter.

Willette called the discussion healthy and amicable.

“We were able to come up with some alternatives while still enforcing our policies,” he said. “City policy and ordinances allow for events as long as 72 hours in public park spaces. They can still assemble and demonstrate on a daily basis. That’s not the issue we have. The issue is the overnight presence and the two semipermanent structures they’ve set up.”

Those large canopies or tents have been used for storage of supplies and firewood.

The longest-allowable time frame for an event is 72 hours per permit.

“Our event permit will include the use of fire, signs, drums and speech. It’ll take us through Monday,” Hughes said. “The permit will be renewable indefinitely if we remain in compliance with existing city policy. Our understanding is it will be renewed unless there are significant issues or incidents that arise.”

Occupy Bangor members also must disassemble and remove smaller tents and other structures each night by 10 p.m. and reassemble them the next day.

Willette sent Occupy Bangor a notice Wednesday informing the group that it had until 10 p.m. Thursday to remove all tents, canopies, structures and related equipment from Peirce Park grounds due to resident complaints and noncompliance with city ordinances and policies. The group has been occupying Peirce Park and the library grounds since Oct. 29.

Occupy Bangor protesters, 20 of whom were present at the campsite encompassing the park and the adjacent grounds of the Bangor Public Library at midday Thursday, are unsure how long their occupation will last.

Chris DesRoches couldn’t say if it would last five days, five months or five years.

“I think if it takes five years for our country’s leaders to listen to this movement and make some change, that’s just proving our point about how seriously wrong things are in our country,” said DesRoches, a Bangor resident and Occupy spokesman.

Desroches, like many of his fellow participants, expects to be hunkered down at the site through the winter.

“I think we’re just focusing on the winter and doing everything we can to prepare to get through the winter first and the mud season,” he said. “And hopefully we’ll see a lot of things coming out of this Occupy movement that will give more direction to what is apparently a directionless movement.”

DesRoches said Occupy Bangor is more than just a protest movement.

“We have some extra food for the hungry here we’re willing to share and we organize teaching events and educational opportunities for the community, and we’re creating a venue for people to freely express their dissent and grievances in a nonviolent and proactive way,” he said.

He downplayed reports from city officials of complaints from residents who feel they cannot use the park.

“I think those benefits outweigh any kind of minor inconvenience,” DesRoches said. “And I really can’t imagine any activity you wouldn’t be able to do in this park because we’re here. And if there was something, we’d be glad to make space for you and what you’re doing because you have as much right to use it as we do.”

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