WISCASSET, Maine — A nonprofit conservation group has asked Wiscasset residents to contact the Maine Department of Transportation and politicians to voice concerns about a controversial traffic project, angering a town advisory committee that has worked with the MDOT for months on details of the plan.
During an April 19 open house at Midcoast Conservancy headquarters, executive director Dodie Jones urged those present to reach out to the MDOT, state representatives and the town’s selectmen to express support for the conservancy’s continued presence in the Haggett Garage on Water Street.
The building, which has served as the organization’s headquarters since January 2017, is slated for demolition as part of the project. In March 2016, the MDOT announced it would acquire the garage and create a parking lot to compensate for parking that would be eliminated on Main Street as part of the project.
The MDOT acquired the property through eminent domain shortly after the Midcoast Conservancy Board of Directors voted to exercise its option to purchase the property from former owner Coastal Enterprises Inc. The MDOT now owns the building.
Jones said the goal is not to interfere with or disrupt the traffic improvement project, but to find a solution that will benefit everyone.
“We think there’s an opportunity for an even better plan, but the only way to know will be if we sit down and talk about it with the [M]DOT,” she said.
No MDOT representatives were at the Conservancy’s open house, and no one from the Conservancy attended an April 24 meeting of the town’s public advisory committee — which angered committee members.
“Where were they?” committee member Lonnie Kennedy-Patterson said. “I volunteer for them and I’m very angry at them for not speaking up sooner. Everything has been on the table and out in the open.”
“Why are they trying to buy a building that’s been slated to be torn down?” committee member Bill Maloney said. “I would be fired if I tried to do that in business.”
In an April 13 letter to Midcoast Conservancy, Maine Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt encouraged Jones to contact MDOT Chief Property Officer Scott Avore to talk about relocation. “Our goal is for Midcoast Conservancy to re-establish its operations in a new location as smoothly as possible on a timeline that works for all concerned,” Bernhardt said.
In the letter, Bernhardt encouraged Jones and Midcoast Conservancy representatives to participate in the advisory committee process.
The Midcoast Conservancy did not previously reach out to the advisory committee because the organization only recently decided to move forward with purchasing the Haggett Garage, Jones said.
“We were looking at other properties and evaluating our options,” Jones said. “In hindsight, I wish we did approach the advisory committee.”
The organization did contact the MDOT directly in February, but was told the MDOT could only speak with the building’s owners, she said.
Jones said she was not aware of Monday’s advisory committee meeting, but does plan to participate in the future. She is hopeful there will still be the possibility to discuss alternatives to demolishing the Haggett Garage for parking.