Biddeford balks at river patrol partnership with Saco, new boat purchase in jeopardy

Posted Dec. 19, 2013, at 3:17 p.m.

BIDDEFORD, Maine — On Tuesday, the Biddeford City Council voted to table an interlocal agreement with Saco that would spell out more formally how Biddeford and Saco share the responsibility for dealing with public safety on the Saco River and Atlantic Ocean within their jurisdictions.

The Biddeford council members had a number of questions and concerns about the proposed agreement.

Mayor Alan Casavant said he will schedule a workshop after the holidays to provide councilors with more information.

But the Biddeford council’s action puts into question whether or not Saco will move forward with the purchase of a new fire rescue boat.

In June 2012, the Saco boat sank and was damaged beyond repair. Since then, it has shared the expense and staffing of Biddeford’s rescue boat.

In November, the Saco City Council approved both the interlocal agreement and purchase of a rescue boat, at a cost of $127,000.

However, when that council met on Dec. 9, with four new members who had been elected in November, it voted to ask the boat contractor to delay construction of the boat for 30 days to wait for Biddeford to act on the interlocal agreement.

Saco already has signed a contract for the boat and could be on the hook for a portion of the cost of the craft even if it ultimately declines to buy it.

According to Biddeford Fire Chief Joseph Warren, from the fire department’s point of view, the interlocal agreement just formalizes how the two cities currently work together.

The agreement “puts into writing what we’re already doing,” he said.

Saco Fire Chief John Duross said he agreed with Warren’s assessment.

The interlocal agreement also establishes a Saco River Patrol that would be staffed by officers of both cities as well as the collaboration of life guards from both communities.

In addition, it creates a committee made up of affected department heads and two city councilors from both communities and a committee chairperson.

The committee would be responsible for implementation of the agreement and making recommendations for ordinances and plans regarding the river and ocean lying within the twin cities’ boundaries.

The purpose of the agreement is to share costs and resources to enhance safety on the river.

The agreement, which Casavant stressed was separate from action on the boat, was worked out through joint discussions by separate Biddeford and Saco ad hoc committees. Committee representatives included Saco and Biddeford councilors, city staff and mayors.

Members of both committees unanimously endorsed it.

There are advantages to Biddeford pitching in to pay for the rescue boat Saco has contracted for, said Warren.

Biddeford’s boat needs more than $20,000 worth of repairs and because it is nearly 30 years old, it will only last a few more years, said Warren.

However, like Casavant, he said the boat purchase is separate from the interlocal agreement. No funds are necessary as a result of signing the agreement.

Warren added that whatever the council decides regarding the interlocal agreement and the boat, “It’s the council that makes the policy, and I have to enforce it, that’s my job.”

Duross said he hopes Biddeford will sign the interlocal agreement once it learns more about the issue, and that the Saco council will approve purchase of the rescue boat in order to “provide the highest level of safety possible on the river and on the ocean.”

Casavant said he would like to see the Biddeford council approve the interlocal agreement.

During his inauguration speech, Casavant said he hoped that Biddeford and Saco would work more closely together to improve efficiency within the twin cities and also save money for taxpayers on both sides of the river.

He said he doesn’t see that there will by major savings as a result of the interlocal agreement, however, “If we find agreement on small things like this, I hope to find agreement on bigger items in the future.”

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