MOUNT DESERT — Regardless of how residents vote on two warrant articles at the special town meeting Monday, Sept. 10, it is likely that Northeast Harbor’s Main Street redevelopment project will go ahead essentially as planned and as approved by voters at the May 8 regular town meeting.
That is because the Board of Selectmen cannot legally make significant changes to the project.
The special town meeting will be held in the Mount Desert Elementary School gym at 6:30 p.m.
One of the warrant articles asks if voters want the selectmen “to further reconsider the details of implementation of the Main Street project.”
That article was placed on the warrant by the selectmen in response to another warrant article prompted by a citizens’ petition. The petition asks the selectmen to reconsider the timing of the project, which is scheduled to start next month, and to reconsider the plan to bury electric, telephone and cable lines.
Some Main Street merchants have expressed fear that the project, particularly the digging up of the street to bury the utilities, would severely hurt their businesses.
Legally, the selectmen had little choice but to place the citizens’ petition on the warrant.
The article on the May 8 town meeting warrant authorizing the town to undertake the Main Street project, which passed 98-71, included $3.96 million in funding for the project and specified that it would include several components including the burying of utility lines.
According to town officials and the town’s legal counsel, that authorization cannot be nullified by a vote at a subsequent town meeting. And items specified in the original warrant article, such as the burying of utilities, cannot be changed.
Town Manager Durlin Lunt and members of the Board of Selectmen have said that, as the project proceeds, some changes might be possible or even necessary. But they said any such changes are likely to be minor because implementation of the project must remain in “general conformance” with the description of it that was part of the warrant article that voters approved in May.
Lunt noted at a recent selectmen’s meeting that the board has already reconsidered the details of the project in light of the citizens’ petition and decided not to delay or alter the project. If either or both of the warrant articles pass at Monday’s special town meeting, the selectmen would be required to again reconsider details of the project, but they would be under no obligation to delay it or make any changes.
The selectmen voted unanimously at their Aug. 20 meeting to recommend against passage of the article they placed on the warrant, but they made no recommendation on the citizens’ petition article. The Warrant Committee voted Aug. 21 to recommend against passage of both warrant articles.
A third article on the warrant for the special town meeting asks voters if they want to authorize the town to borrow up to $225,500 to purchase a new street sweeper. The old sweeper was damaged beyond repair when a large chunk of ledge fell on it on Peabody Drive in early May.