CHARLESTON, Maine — Even with extra chairs brought in, it was still standing room only at Saturday’s special town meeting, where residents voted to pass on considering a rights-based ordinance designed to stop the proposed east-west corridor.
The decision to pass over the proposed ordinance nullified it, town officials said.
“There is a flaw in the definition section,” Bob Lodato, one of the backers of the rights-based ordinance, informed those gathered at the Charleston Community Center. “We plan to continue working in order to develop another option to stop the east-west highway.”
The Cianbro- proposed east-west corridor includes a 220-mile toll highway connecting Calais to Coburn Gore, creating an east-west route from New Brunswick to Quebec.
Lodato and other backers of the proposed rights-based ordinance explained that the decree before town residents was not good for local businesses and farmers. Rights-based ordinances were invented 15 years ago by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit, public interest law firm. They are very specific and based on the Maine Constitution, he said.
One provision in the ordinance states it would prohibit disrupting the local ecosystem.
Lodato told residents he has tried to negotiate with the authors of the rights-based ordinance to change the wording but said the organization has held its ground.
“We need to rework the rights-based ordinance so it’s beneficial for everybody in town,” Charleston Selectboard Chairman Teri Lynn Hall said.
Barry Higgins, owner of Maple Lane Farm, said during the special meeting that he wanted to vote on the measures.
“I am definitely against what I think is an ill piece of proposition,” he said.
Resident Joan Morrison, who has called Charleston her home since 1975, said she wanted to pass on considering the ordinances.
“There is so much fear in the community about what this ordinance will do,” she said. “We already have this division in town.”
Morrison said passing on considering the rights-based proposed ordinance would give backers time to work with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund to create an ordinance that locals can live with, and it would “give us time to heal the wounds that are developing in Charleston.”
Sangerville adopted a rights-based ordinance in September to prohibit a privately owned or public-private corridor designed for transportation or energy distribution.
Charleston residents voted 48-2 in November to extend a moratorium regarding private corridors that includes paved highways, pipelines and high-tension transmission lines until June 2014.
Dexter voted Thursday, 4-3, to extend its own moratorium on corridors and Sangerville, Monson, Garland and Parkman also have similar moratoriums in place.
Cianbro leaders said this week that plans for the proposed east-west highway continue despite the opposition. Though, no permits have been requested yet.
At the end of the meeting, a straw vote was held to to gauge the town’s views on the potential highway.
A good number of the 130 or so residents raised their hands in opposition, and about an equal number raised their hands when asked if they were undecided.
There were no hands raised in support of the proposed highway.