After a public hearing Monday night during which residents bashed Gov. Paul LePage’ s plan to build a 21-bed “step-down” forensic psychiatric facility on Hogan Road, Bangor city councilors directed staff to prepare a moratorium ordinance for consideration during their next regular meeting on Monday night.
The LePage administration says the proposed Bangor facility will alleviate overcrowding at Augusta’s troubled Riverview Psychiatric Center, which lost its federal accreditation in 2013 because of overcrowding and inadequate staffing and for using handcuffs and stun guns to subdue violent patients.
The moratorium, if approved, would provide the city a six-month delay for the project during which it would study the potential effects of the facility and develop standards for it, such as buffers, setbacks and security measures, or during which it could rezone the parcel on which the psychiatric facility would be built.
With the approval of two-thirds of the council, the moratorium could become effective immediately, City Solicitor Norman Heitmann said during the meeting.
The fact that the city — as well as members of Bangor’s legislative delegation — have been left in the dark about the facility, how it would be funded, who would run it and other key details — is not sitting well with city councilors.
“This isn’t a small issue for Bangor. A building this size, of this magnitude, adjacent to a section [of Hogan Road] that is bordered with low-density and high-density residential [properties],” Council Chairman Joe Baldacci said. “The city of Bangor, all of us together as a community, have a right to feel safe and a right to be protected.”
“We also have a right not to be used in a political game in Augusta when we have been provided no answers at all. … I think it’s absolutely necessary for this council to do what it can to prevent this from happening,” he said.
He said the state officials pushing for the Bangor unit are the same people “who have been decertified by the federal government, have been fined by the federal government for $51 million dollars for mismanagement, have made Riverview not meet any standards and are not giving us any information.”
An estimated 80 people — not counting council members, city staff or the media — attended the council workshop during which the hearing was held. While some of nearly 20 neighbors, residents and others who spoke said they understood the need for the unit, not one was in favor of the location, adjacent to an apartment complex and several homes.
Paul Amoroso and Julie Sites own 25 acres abutting the site chosen for the facility. Their land houses Eagle Crest Suites and Apartments, which has 130 rental units and three houses with about 210 residents, Amoroso said during the hearing.
As Amoroso sees it, the facility would adversely affect quality of life for their tenants and decrease the value of the property they have owned for 35 years.
“Would you want this unit next to your home or your property?” he asked, drawing applause.
Julie Howard, the parent of an adult child who resides at the Elizabeth Levinson Center for children and adults with significant cognitive and medical needs, said said she was scared to have the forensic unit so close to a home for some of Bangor’s most vulnerable residents.
City officials earlier requested a meeting with the governor’s office but were told that wasn’t necessary because information about the facility was on the state’s website. Their attempts to get a representative of the Maine Department of Health and Human Service to attend Monday’s hearing also were unsuccessful.
The state last month tapped Cianbro Corp. of Pittsfield to build the 8,300-square-foot rehabilitation facility on state-owned land on Hogan Road, roughly across the road from Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center.
Maine Attorney General Janet Mills has questioned whether LePage has the legal authority to place the step down facility outside of Augusta.
State officials recently were notified that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is recalling $51 million in payments made to Maine since decertification.