CHARLESTON, Maine — Residents overwhelmingly voted to renew a moratorium on development of a corridor for a proposed east-west highway last week, and soon the town will have the opportunity to vote on an ordinance to prohibit the corridor.
An informational meeting regarding a rights-based ordinance will be held at the town office at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. During a special town meeting in December, voters will consider the ordinance.
On Nov. 4, Charleston residents voted 48-2 to extend the moratorium an additional 180 days.
A rights-based ordinance is based directly upon Maine’s constitution, which guarantees inherent and unalienable rights regarding the acquisition, possession and protection of property, and the pursuit of safety and happiness, said Bob Lodato, a Charleston resident and organizer of Wednesday’s meeting.
Rights-based ordinances are not often challenged in court, he said. There have been more than 160 rights-based ordinances adopted around the country and only five were challenged and withdrawn. A rights-based ordinance can’t be overturned by a state legislature like a land use ordinance, said Lodato.
Voters in the nearby town of Sangerville adopted a rights-based ordinance to prohibit a privately owned or public-private corridor designed for transportation or energy distribution. It was adopted by an 86-40 vote in September.
“I think we will just wait to see what happens [with towns adopting ordinances],” said Darryl Brown, east-west highway project manager for Cianbro Corp., the major backer of the proposed roadway. “We’ll just have to take a second look at those communities and how to best deal with that action.”
Brown said Cianbro has been focused on property and environmental issues regarding the corridor.
A specific route for the corridor is still not complete, he said.
“It’s a thing that changes by the week,” said Brown. “It continues to be a moving target. We won’t release anything until we have a much, much firmer handle [on the route] and we’re not there yet.”
Sangerville Town Manager Dave Pearson said he’s proud of the town’s rights-based ordinance against the corridor.
“Obviously voters in Sangerville don’t want [the corridor],” he said. “We’re not convinced it will bring us any economic development. It will flatten forests and farms.”
Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, wrote a letter to the Bangor Daily News earlier this month stating that a rights-based ordinance would take property rights away from landowners.
Pearson said that isn’t true. Sangerville’s rights-based ordinance would only affect transportation or energy corridors passing through the town, he said.
Charleston Selectman Teri Lynn Hall said the town did not have a position on the moratorium or ordinance.
Brown said the corridor is an opportunity for Maine to enter the global economy.
“We think it’s important to have this east-west connection because it allows greater and easier access to markets that aren’t really available to us,” he said. “It will help Maine businesses, and that’s why Cianbro believes this really needs to happen to get Maine’s economy back again.”