Last week, the Bar Harbor Town Council made an end run around town meeting by voting to shift $32,000 from the town’s sidewalk repair account to accommodate a survey of the Crooked Road. The purpose of the survey is to gather engineering information to permit bicycle lanes to be installed along that road.
Unfortunately, the idea of a Crooked Road bicycle path has not been vetted formally through the town meeting process, nor has money been allocated via the capital improvement program account. The final project could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. No homeowners along the route have been formally approached about the prospect that more of their property could be taken through eminent domain to make this dream a reality.
This is a prime example of how to ram through a pet project without a flicker on the public’s radar. Once launched, a project can take on a life of its own, cloaked in a mantle of inevitability. By the time the general public realizes what’s going on, proponents will argue that so much already has been invested, it would be a terrible waste not to complete the effort.
Long before any such significant taxpayer money is committed, preliminary planning steps should be taken.
The town meeting should have the chance to weigh in. Sidewalk repairs are badly needed. Residents waiting years for sidewalk improvements will continue to wait.
Beyond all that is the fundamental question of fairness. Patient supporters of other community-supported projects, such as the Park Street Playground and the Skatepark, have a right to ask how the Crooked Road bike lane magically jumped to the front of the funding priority line without any hint of widespread support or ancillary fundraising. Shifting that $32,000 isn’t just a bookkeeping move to cover an honest shortfall in another account. It’s a backdoor raid.
We urge those town councilors voting to tap the sidewalk repair funds to reconsider. Proponents first should do their homework to demonstrate broad public support before asking taxpayers to fund this ambitious new undertaking.