The Bangor City Council has a tiger by the tail.
In 2010, when the council approved an agreement with Waterfront Concerts LLC, there was practically no concern voiced about it. No one foresaw the “unintended consequences” of extreme levels of sound penetrating several parts of the city. The council was responding to the desire of its younger citizens to have the kind of musical entertainment they enjoy here, rather than 75 or 125 miles away.
Perhaps more questions should have been asked before surrendering occupancy of one of the city’s biggest parks to a commercial promoter, but there were no questions. The council did what it thought was right and good for the city’s economic progress and recreational opportunities.
Now the community is divided, though not equally, on the issue of the Waterfront Concerts, and the council has no viable options to satisfy both sides.
The appointment of a committee composed of private citizens and city council members to make recommendations that will reduce the disturbance of homeowners’ tranquility, while continuing the concerts, was a nice gesture by the council chair, but it’s hard to see what practical solution can be reached.
Among the facts that make this committee’s task virtually impossible is the control of sound levels, which are set by each performing group and managed by the group’s sound technicians, not the city.
To require, by means of local authority or Department of Environmental Protection regulations, that the sound levels be reduced to an “acceptable” maximum (according to community standards) will have only one result: the refusal of most bands and artists to perform in Bangor, which would mean the effective end of the Waterfront Concerts. It could also potentially result in a unilateral breach of the contract by the city, which, in turn, could subject the city to a lawsuit for loss of income and punitive damages.
It has been suggested that the Waterfront Concerts might be relocated to the Cross Center, which would eliminate the sound problem but would also reduce the size of audiences by as much as half — something it is doubtful the promoter would accept — and would also constitute a breach of contract by the city.
The only remaining option seems to be the addition of baffling to the forward part of the stage’s roof to contain some of the sound, but would it do enough? Add to this option the cost involved, which neither the promoter nor the city would be willing to bear.
In March, the council authorized the city to open negotiations with Waterfront Concerts to extend the contract until 2021, at the request of the promoter, to enable him to amortize his investment in the stage and groundwork over 10 years rather than five — a legitimate business judgment on the promoter’s part.
Though the extension has not yet been acted upon by the council, it seems probable that it will be approved. Perhaps, if it is, the two parties can come up with some reasonable compromise that will reduce the sound problem, but, until then, the concerts will go on, just as they are and have been.
It is disappointing that, at the recent public hearing held in the council chambers, no member of the council acknowledged the fact that in March of 2012 the contract was extended through 2016. To have done so would not have solved the problem, but it would have bolstered the council’s credibility with the public.
The city council bears the full responsibility for handling this issue, and passing it off to a committee, none of whose members have any experience in the entertainment industry, is, at best, beguiling and, at worst, irresponsible.
Hal Wheeler served on the Bangor City Council from 1983-1986 and 2007-2010.