MOUNT DESERT — Voters at Town Meeting Tuesday evening authorized spending up to $357,500 for engineering and design services for a proposed expansion of the fire station in Northeast Harbor to house fire and EMS personnel and equipment.
The vote was 46-18.
Town officials expect to have construction costs and a final design for the fire station expansion to present for voter approval at next year’s Town Meeting. At the same time, they hope to be able to ask voters to approve a major renovation of the fire station in Somesville to house firefighters and EMS personnel.
At Tuesday’s meeting, five people spoke against the Northeast Harbor fire station expansion plan.
“It seems to me we have not had enough in-depth study on where to place a fire station that would best cover the whole town,” said Jim Bright. “I don’t think we should be stuck in Northeast Harbor, since most of the residents now live on the other side of the sound. It would make more sense to build a brand-new station in the center of the town.”
Fire Chief Mike Bender responded, saying that one fire station would not be sufficient to cover the entire town.
“As a homeowner, if you don’t live within 5 miles of a fire station…you’re most likely looking at higher insurance rates if you decide to go with one station in the middle of town,” he said.
“But what concerns me is the response time. When you’re dealing with EMS and the fire department, time is of the essence; minutes count.”
Bender said that if there was only one fire station, located near the center of the town, it would take fire and EMS personnel too long to respond to emergencies in Otter Creek on one side of town and Pretty Marsh on the other.
In addition to Bender and two members of the Board of Selectmen, three people spoke in favor of proceeding with the engineering and design work for the Northeast Harbor fire station expansion.
Wells Bacon said the need to hire more full-time firefighters and to provide accommodations for them has been discussed for several years.
“I think we’re going to find ourselves in serious trouble if we don’t act and get this taken care of,” he said. “We’re taking a great chance with our first responders in not being able to do the job we ask them to do.
“If we have to expand in Somesville in the future, we can do that, too. We need to do something to keep our town protected.”
Scott McFarland said no one has all the answers.
“I think we have to depend on the people who have put a lot of time and energy into trying to figure this all out,” he said. “It makes sense to me that you boost your Somesville presence, and you also have a Northeast Harbor presence. To me, that provides a lot better coverage for everyone rather than one central fire station somewhere.”
Also at Tuesday’s Town Meeting, voters approved 43-9 a resolution declaring a “climate emergency” that commits the town to working toward achieving zero carbon emissions by 2031.
Voters also approved an update to the town’s outdoor lighting standards, establishing “minimum requirements for outdoor lighting that enhance visibility and public safety by preventing uncontrolled intrusion into adjacent properties and the natural environment.”
In secret-ballot voting on Monday, Martha Dudman was reelected to the Board of Selectmen, Brian Henkel and James Whitehead were elected to the School Committee and Tony Smith was reelected to the MDI High School Board of Trustees. All four ran unopposed.