By Liz Graves and Dick Broom
MOUNT DESERT — Selectmen are taking more time to consider their response to a citizen petition presented earlier this month seeking to delay a planned reconstruction of Main Street. They requested reports from town staff at their next meeting, Aug. 6, and plan to pass a resolution on or before Aug. 15 detailing next steps.
“We want to collaborate; we want to communicate,” Selectman Wendy Littlefield told residents at Monday’s Board of Selectmen meeting. “There’s a lot of data to come in.”
Petitioners are concerned about the impact of the construction work on Main Street businesses and argue that burying power and communication lines may not be necessary. The petition also seeks “to convey to developers…that any development of buildings on Main Street be done first and that the streets and sidewalks be done last so as not to damage the new street and sidewalk to further damage due to future utility and construction work.”
According to the town charter, the board has 45 days to include the petition in the warrant for the next regular town meeting, call a special town meeting or reject it as illegal, moot or impossible.
“The board will use as much of that clock as necessary,” attorney Andy Hamilton, who represents the town, said when the board convened in open session following an executive session to discuss the issue.
“They can’t advance a petition that would have the town do something illegal.”
A $2.19 million contract has already been awarded to R. F. Jordan for the work, which includes reconfiguring the intersections at each end of the street, improving sidewalks, burying utility lines beneath the street and putting in new streetlights and plantings.
The contract has not yet been signed, and if the project does not begin in October as planned the pricing will likely change, officials said.
“We’re trying to thread the needle between the project schedule and a fair consideration of the proposal,” Hamilton said. He described a “tension between taking as much time as needed and not taking any more time than necessary.”
Residents at the May 8 town meeting voted 98-71 to authorize the town to borrow up to $3.96 million for “professional technical and construction services…to improve the appearance, functionality and vitality of the Main Street area.”
Any move to reconsider that vote would only have been in order if made before the town meeting adjourned, Town Manager Durlin Lunt said.
“Nobody made a timely motion for reconsideration,” Hamilton said. “Rather, implementation details could be looked at.”
Public Works Director Tony Smith is set to present options to selectmen Aug. 6 for routing of utilities and construction scheduling and Lunt has been asked to provide information about economic development support.
Representatives of power company Emera Maine, telephone provider Consolidated Communications and cable company Spectrum held a walking meeting on Main Street July 12 to consider possible alternatives to burying the utility lines as part of the street’s redevelopment.
Each of the utility companies is to forward its analysis of possible options and associated cost estimates to Travis Noyes of the engineering firm CES Inc., which is overseeing the project for the town. Noyes said he would then make a recommendation to town officials.