September 25, 2018
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With LePage threat looming, Wiscasset rejects deal to settle suit over Route 1 traffic fix

Abigail W. Adams | Lincoln County News
Abigail W. Adams | Lincoln County News
The Haggett Garage on Water Street in Wiscasset.
By Charlotte Boynton, Lincoln County News
Updated:

WISCASSET, Maine — The Wiscasset Board of Selectmen on Tuesday rejected a consent judgment negotiated by attorneys for the town and the Maine Department of Transportation to resolve the town’s lawsuit against the department.

The consent agreement was not well-received by a majority of those present at the special selectmen’s meeting at the Wiscasset Community Center.

According to attorneys Peter Murray and John Shumadine, representing the town, under the agreement, the Department of Transportation would comply with the Wiscasset Historic Preservation Ordinance and submit an application to the Wiscasset Historic Preservation Commission for a certificate of appropriateness for demolition of the historic Haggett’s Garage.

If the commission denied the application, the Department of Transportation would appeal to the town’s board of appeals. If that board denied the application, the department would exclude demolition of the building and the construction of a parking lot on the site from the project and move forward with the rest of the proposed project.

According to Murray, the Department of Transportation had agreed to provide eight parallel parking spaces on Main Street — a chief concern of critics of the project — but when Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt presented the proposal to Gov. Paul LePage, the governor vetoed the eight parking spaces.

Murray said he requested a meeting with the governor, but was told the governor would not entertain such a meeting with litigation pending. If the town accepted the consent agreement, the governor might meet with representatives of the town, Murray said.

Shumadine said that under the consent agreement, the Department of Transportation would pay for installation of traffic lights included in the project, and maintain the lights and pay the electricity bills for the lights. It would also maintain and pay the cost of electricity for the traffic light at the intersection of routes 1 and 27.

A motion by chairwoman Judy Colby to authorize Murray and Shumadine to execute the proposed consent agreement was seconded by Selectman Benjamin Rines.

But members of the public were less receptive, and most encouraged selectmen to move forward with the lawsuit.

James Kochan suggested selectmen table the motion and take more time to study it.

William Sutter suggested that voters should decide whether to approve the consent judgment, and asked what the alternative would be if the town rejected the judgment.

Murray said the town could proceed with litigation for an injunction against the project, but cautioned, “It would be a long battle with no guarantee of the outcome.”

“We need to step back,” Pam Logan said. “We are getting nothing … We need to have a voice.”

Seaver Leslie said the eight parking spaces had been agreed on over a year ago and are now gone. “They are taking away the life blood of this community,” he said.

Dick Zieg spoke in favor of the project, noting “We are only part of Lincoln County. They are trying to help the whole state. We need to move forward in the 21st century.”

Former Selectman Judy Flanagan said, “I want you to know you are not the only person here that feels that way.”

Selectman Robert Blagden expressed disappointment in the consent agreement, which he said would give the town next to nothing with little to no compromise.

Rines mentioned a proposed $75,000 donation from the Doering family to continue the legal battle, and suggested the town vote on moving forward with litigation.

Selectman Judy Colby said she didn’t feel the town should accept a donation from someone who named the town in a separate lawsuit.

Murray said that while it is not illegal for the town to accept private donations, when the donor has an interest in the outcome of the litigation, it creates concern.

The board voted against moving forward with the consent agreement, with Colby and Selectman Jeff Slack in the minority.

After the vote, Rines moved to hold a special town meeting and ask the voters whether the town should accept any and all donations for the purpose of litigation. The motion carried, 5-0.

Murray advised the selectmen to hold the town meeting as soon as possible.

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