BAR HARBOR — An attorney who lives in the neighborhood of Emera Maine’s proposed controversial power substation has filed suit against the town over the project. He is claiming in court that town councilors violated local law by refusing to put zoning initiatives related to the substation on the June town meeting ballot. Putting that matter up for a vote was the aim of a citizens’ petition this winter.
Attorney Arthur Greif, who along with his wife, Donna Karlson, has been an outspoken opponent of Emera’s proposal to build a substation on Woodbury Road, claims in a suit filed against the town that petition backers are being denied their first amendment rights by having to wait until November for a vote. He argues the town is violating its own charter by not putting the ordinance issues on the June ballot.
“Placing this issue on a warrant long after the time at which the town is required to place it before the voters is an attempt to deliberately stifle Plaintiff’s speech until a time when their voices can no longer be effectively heard,” Greif wrote in a Feb. 24 court filing.
Calling Greif’s argument “facile,” town attorney Murphy wrote in a March 13 response that the language of the ordinances proposed in the petitions would, if approved at the same time as other ordinance issues already on the June ballot, “result in an amalgamated land use ordinance that would be illegal and void on its face based on vagueness and irreconcilable conflicting provisions.”
Murphy further argues that the town council legally and properly exercised discretion in putting the ordinance questions on the November ballot.
“Municipal officers may refuse to put a petition on a ballot when it is reasonable to do so,” he states.
The ballot items in question resulted from two citizens’ petitions this past winter. The suggested ordinance changes would define “public utility facilities” and “public utility installations” and would regulate the latter, of which substations are a part. The language would completely disallow the building of a substation on Woodbury Road.
Emera Maine, facing controversy over its proposal, has already said it is considering other locations. These include a site at the intersection of Prospect Avenue and Route 3 and the site of the current, outdated substation on Edgewood Street.
Greif makes clear in his court filing that he and the other plaintiff, Sam Dunlap, live in close proximity to the Woodbury Road site.
“There is a distinct possibility that Emera Maine will commence building a substation on that land this summer,” Greif writes. “Clarification of the LUO on June 9, 2015, as to whether a substation is allowed in the … district will definitively establish whether such a substation could be built there.”
Greif is also the attorney representing Patricia and Donal Murphy in their lawsuit against Emera Maine and the town concerning the substation. The Murphys lost the first round of the suit in court and are now appealing the decision to a higher court. Greif also has taken the lead on the official protest process over the substation with the Maine Public Utilities Commission.
According to town treasurer Stan Harmon, the town so far has spent nearly $22,000 in legal costs related to Greif’s lawsuits.