BAR HARBOR — Proposed Community Solar Farm (CSF) projects got a boost at Town Meeting Tuesday when residents voted to allow the Town Council to enter into long-term lease agreements for solar energy installations. The warrant article, proposed by council Vice Chairman Gary Friedman, extends the council’s current maximum lease authority of 15 years to 30 years.
Debate over the solar issue included specific concerns about one proposed site at the town’s new salt shed and balancing public and private benefit.
“If the salt shed leaks after these panels are mounted, nobody’s going to call up Councilor Friedman. Instead, they’re going to call up the Department of Public Works and Chip Reeves,” Mike Silkosi said. Comparing the CSF project, which would provide energy to a few families, to a tour boat using the town pier, he said, “the tangential benefit that would accrue to the town was slight.”
Several other residents voiced concerns about impacts to the roof. Others said solar panels on their own home roofs had not caused damage.
“I share concerns about the salt shed roof, but we’re not actually voting on whether this goes on the salt shed roof,” Matthew Hochman said. “The text of the warrant article does not mention the salt shed roof at all. I believe if this article passes, we’re still free to come to the town council and say, ‘We would like you to look at an alternate site.’”
Seth Libby compared the project to initiatives like the cell phone tower on the public safety building or the use of town land by the Island Explorer bus system “To the extent that municipal land is made available for private initiatives, I think it should be rare, and I think it should be justified. In this case, I don’t think we’ve heard anything about why municipal land is necessary, what efforts were made to find suitable private land, or whether any suitable private land is available for this type of project.”
Sue Jones of ReVision Energy told the meeting that the town could decide how to choose the nine families to participate in the salt shed project.
The final vote on the solar energy leasing authority was 87 in favor and 66 opposed.
For the first time in many years, nominations from the floor of town meeting resulted in the ouster of a standing warrant committee member. Erin Early-Ward was elected over long-time member Donna Karlson.
Sherry Rasmussen rose to add three names to the nominating committee’s slate for the 2015-2016 committee in an effort to unseat three current members. The group must have 22 members, according to town charter. Rasmussen said Michael Good, Jake Jagel and Karlson have been involved in a group that has brought legal action against the town in the past few years and that should disqualify them from making decisions on behalf of residents. Rasmussen nominated Early-Ward, Orwell Watterson and Arnold Lunquist. Karlson is the wife of attorney Arthur Greif, who has filed several suits against the town.
Members of this year’s warrant committee who had been involved in bringing Citizens’ Initiatives Articles 3 and 4 abstained from the committee’s recommendation vote on those articles.
Voters were given a printed sheet of the nominating committee members’ names and given the option of writing in Rasmussen’s recommendations. Clerks took more than an hour to tally the results as the meeting continued. Early-Ward and Karlson ended up in a tie. A runoff vote by show of hands at the end of the evening showed 61 for Early-Ward and 34 for Karlson.
Bond issues for repairs to the public safety building and replacement of the water main under sections of Route 3 scheduled to be rebuilt next year passed easily. A representative from the firm hired to assess the public safety building, which was built in 1911, said the existing repairs should give the building another 50 years or more of reliable use. That fix is estimated to cost $400,000. The Route 3 work is projected to cost $1.7 million.
The $11 million municipal budget passed unanimously, as did the $5.7 million elementary school budget.
The budget as approved is expected to generate an estimated 4.5 percent hike in property taxes. That would equal a yearly increase of $135 in property taxes on a home valued at $295,000, the median home value in Bar Harbor.
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