East-west highway moratorium extended, annual budget passed by Dexter council

Posted July 16, 2014, at 12:11 p.m.
Local student Seth Hocking read an essay he wrote at the beginning of the Dexter Town Council meeting last week about his opposition to the east-west highway.
Mike Lange | Piscataquis Observer
Local student Seth Hocking read an essay he wrote at the beginning of the Dexter Town Council meeting last week about his opposition to the east-west highway.

DEXTER, Maine — The town council unanimously passed another 180-day extension of a moratorium during last week’s meeting, banning any construction of the east-west highway through the community, at least through the end of the year.

They also endorsed a new budget that could raise the tax rate from $15.40 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to as high as $18.20.

But Dexter councilors were less enthusiastic about a public assembly ordinance proposed by the planning board and declined to schedule a public hearing on the new statute.

“Some parts of it are ridiculous,” Councilor Michael Blake said.

The east-west highway moratorium ordinance drew a huge crowd to the council meeting, which normally attracts 10 or 12 attendees.

The first speaker was Dexter Regional High School student Seth Hocking, who read an essay he wrote in support of the extension of the moratorium. His teacher, Carol Sherburne, explained each student was assigned to write about a subject of their choice, and he selected the east-west highway.

Hocking described the rural solitude of the area — “quiet woods, chirping birds, very little traffic … chance to go fishing in a crystal-clear lake” — as being threatened by environmental and “noise pollution” with increased traffic.

In addition, Hocking wrote, construction of the highway “would fill in a lot of wetlands, and many birds and animals will lose their homes. … Would you want the east-west corridor in your backyard? I wouldn’t.”

During the 30-minute public hearing, all but one attendee spoke in favor of extending the moratorium. One major point made was an ongoing effort by a citizens’ committee to put the issue on the November general election ballot.

“We would like the citizens of Dexter to decide on this very important issue, which will impact the town for a very, very long time,” Linda Tisdale said.

She asked all those in the council chambers who favored the moratorium extension to stand up, and about 90 percent of the audience complied.

Kent Dellaire said he was concerned about the transport of petroleum products on the proposed highway from Calais to Coburn Gore, especially if the road were to be built near Wassookeag Lake.

“If there’s a spill in the groundwater, there goes our lake and there goes our town,” he said.

The lone speaker who opposed the extension of the moratorium, Bill Lovejoy, said the highway would help generate jobs.

“This town is going to continue to deteriorate, and you’re going to see more empty storefronts,” Lovejoy said.

But others, such as Barbara Beal, said the “short-term” construction jobs would never offset the loss of tourism in the area “if our lakes are destroyed.”

Council Chairman Fred Banks acknowledged that he was skeptical about extending the moratorium for the third time “because we don’t know any more about it (the project) than we did three years ago.” But he also said that he favored putting the issue out to the voters; and if voting in favor of the extension accomplished that goal, “I don’t have a problem with that.”

Banks joined the majority in passing the measure.

The new $4.16 million municipal budget drew only a few questions and comments from the audience, even though it was 15.4 percent higher than last year.

Town Manager Shelley Watson and several councilors explained the increase was the result of several factors, including the decision to take more than $300,000 from surplus last year to help balance expenditures.

“We’re paying for sins of the past,” Banks said.

The town also needed to spend a considerable amount of money to replace two bridges that washed out during spring flooding, and Dexter’s share of the SAD 46 budget increased by $100,000 this year.

Councilor Missy Smith said this was the third budget she helped prepare and the most difficult.

“But the department heads were great,” Smith said. “They didn’t come to us asking for much at all.”

Councilors also voted to send the public assembly ordinance back to the Planning Board for revisions, noting several parts of the proposal may not be enforceable or practical.

The next regularly scheduled Dexter Town Council meeting will be held Thursday, Aug. 14.

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