YORK, Maine — Members of Think Again, a local group opposed to the relocation of the York toll plaza, feel deceived by the Maine Turnpike Authority and its executive director, Peter Mills, after learning the Maine Turnpike Authority purchased a large amount of land north of the current tollbooths.
The unspecified amount of acreage is near mile 8.7 on the Maine Turnpike in York, a location the Maine Turnpike Authority has long had on a list of prime sites for a new toll plaza.
No one with the grassroots Think Again knew about the option or purchase until Wednesday, according to group spokeswoman Joan Jarvis.
“Think Again feels that it has been deceived by [the Maine Turnpike Authority] and Peter Mills,” Jarvis said Friday. “They’ve known about this for three-plus years. At no time was it ever said we have this option to buy this large track of land at [mile] 8.7.”
The Maine Turnpike Authority was at the end of a three-year option on the property and needed either to acquire the land or let it go, according to Mills.
The purchase does not mean the Maine Turnpike Authority has an intention of building the new toll plaza there, he said. The focus remains on reconstructing the toll plaza in its present location at mile 7.3, he said.
It also was not necessarily true that mile 8.7 would rise to the top of a list of sites being considered for a new toll plaza should the current location be deemed not feasible, Mills said.
The $925,000 purchase price is “small potatoes” compared to the total, $25 million-plus project, Mills said.
But members of Think Again, who support keeping the toll plaza in its present location, are not convinced.
“I don’t believe they’ll look any further,” Jarvis said.
Vicki Carr and her brother Curtis Clark, who both have homes at mile 8.7 off of Chases Pond Road, would be directly affected should the Maine Turnpike Authority decide to build a new toll plaza there.
Carr confirmed she knew nothing of the option until Wednesday.
“I feel it puts them in a good position to use it,” Carr said Friday.
Morrison could not be reached for comment.
Kari Prichard’s property is at mile 8.9, next to Carr and her brother.
“I feel completely deceived, disappointed in Peter Mills and the [Maine Turnpike Authority],” Prichard said Friday. “This was never disclosed to us. They promised full disclosure, obviously they did not keep their promise. It makes me frightened for the qualify of life for the people in this area.”
Mills has said possibly land, but no homes, would be taken should the Maine Turnpike Authority decide to build in another location.
There was no effort to conceal information about the option that has been publicly discussed at board meetings, Mills said.
“The fact that the Morrisons wanted to sell has been in the public domain for years,” Mills said. “There’s been no effort to keep it a secret.”
About five years ago, Morrison came to the turnpike authority and offered to sell the land, he said.
The Maine Turnpike Authority thought when it entered into the option to buy it three years ago, that by the summer of 2014 it would know where the new toll plaza would be built, he said.
That hasn’t been the case as the Maine Turnpike Authority, pressured by Think Again, studied the feasibility of all electronic tolling at the present location. All electronic tolling would have meant no plaza nor cash tolls.
On July 24, the Maine Turnpike Authority board said it was no longer considering the option of all electronic tolling.
At that same meeting, the board accepted the Morrison land purchase, Mills said.
Mills did not have the specific acreage.
“It’s more land that we need,” Mills said.
The property also includes the right to build a road to Chases Pond Road, he said.
Carr said each lot has at least 3 acres each for a total of more than 24 acres.
“The option expired. The board decided it would follow through and buy the property, [thinking] at least we’d have one spot where we could propose a spot to build a place other than the current location,” Mills said. “[It was] an insurance position. It doesn’t advance the issue as to where and when we should build something new.”
The Maine Turnpike Authority is exploring open road tolling, a combination of cash toll booths and electronic lanes, at the plaza location in York, he said. It has hired Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. to do the evaluation of the site, with Mills asking for a report by the end of the year.
Think Again co-spokesman Marshall Jarvis said the Maine Turnpike Authority has promised Think Again it would be part of the process.
“We’re interested in all criteria involved in the process,” Jarvis said. “Without the total view, they could easily set us up to get limited information.”