SOUTHWEST HARBOR — A company operating on Clark Point Road was asked to stop operating a refrigerator truck a month ago because of noise complaints from neighbors.
Selectmen approved funds at their meeting Tuesday for Code Enforcement Officer Don Lagrange to litigate a land use ordinance violation by MDI Lobster Company.
Following complaints from several businesses and neighbors about the lobster dealer’s use of a refrigerated storage trailer on the property, Lagrange issued a cease and desist order on Sept. 12.
“I don’t know what this is all about,” Sheryl Harper said to selectmen at their Tuesday meeting. “I’ve owned the business for 35 years. I just think this is absurd. I’m sorry my neighbors are having an issue but we are a functioning business.”
When asked by Selectman Kristin Hutchins what had changed at her business, Harper said there is a reefer running.
“My understanding is the reefer is much louder and [running] for much longer than before,” said Selectman Lydia Goetze.
“My freedom is being taken away,” said Harper about the request to stop the noise.
She explained the refrigerated trailer is essential to her business of dealing lobsters that need to be kept cool before they are shipped out. Harper also said she was within her rights as a business owner because of the commercial zoning on Clark Point Road.
“There’s no contesting their right to conduct business,” Don Jalbert said to selectmen during the meeting.
He owns the Harbour Cottage Inn located across the street from MDI Lobster Company.
“But I have a business to run too,” Jalbert said. “I can likely attribute a $25,000 loss this season … This has the potential to totally destroy my business.”
In a letter to the town written after Labor Day weekend, Jalbert said his inn had to stop outdoor breakfast service over the holiday weekend.
“Guests are actually refusing to sit outside and are continuing to have sleepless nights,” the letter stated. “We have 5 empty rooms tonight which is unheard of this time of year. This is killing our business and raising our stress level to very unhealthy levels.”
Another neighbor who has a residence [in the area], not a business, told selectmen when they hosted their daughter’s wedding at their home this summer, guests stayed at neighboring inns. Most of them considered leaving earlier than planned because of the noise, she said.
“Hospitality is as important as fishing,” the woman said. “I think there’s a way we can work this out together.”
Town Manager Justin VanDongen told Harper and other members of the public that the select board that if there’s an ordinance violation, the select board is not the ruling body. VanDongen then asked the board to approve the funds for legal services to pursue court action.
“What I just heard, is that a threat?” Harper asked VanDongen, referring to the town hiring a lawyer to address the matter. “Is this the high pressure technique?”
“The Code Enforcement Officer is pursuing this because he has received several complaints,” Hutchins said in response.
She then made a motion to approve funds for litigation of the matter.
“So we can settle this well before it goes to court,” said Hutchins.
Prior to voting on the motion, Selectman Ryan Donahue asked Harper if she had received a certified letter regarding the matter on Sept. 13. Harper said she had.
“So you’ve known about this since then,” Donahue said. He then asked, “Was this noise down there last year?”
“No, not this particular noise,” Harper said.
Selectmen unanimously approved the funding request for legal services.