Originally published in The Weekly Packet, April 13, 2017
Blue Hill elects Best, approves school bond, Salt Pond access
Lynn Cheney asks selectmen whether they considered the Affordable Care Act for employees health insurance.
by Anne Berleant
At an April 8 town meeting that saw voters approve public access to Salt Pond, amend articles against the budget committee recommendation, and remove a selectman of 25 years’ standing, citizens also took care of business. They passed 83 municipal and education articles totaling over $8.3 million, approved financing of $1.7 million in school renovations, and the purchase of a fire truck.
But first, the approximately 150 citizens stood and applauded outgoing Selectman John Bannister for his years of service.
“Us? There is no us anymore. [It’s] them,” Bannister—reflecting on the change in his selectman status—stopped to comment mid-explanation of selectmen’s plans for a new stairway to the beach at town park. The article, requesting up to $10,000 for the project, passed.
Requests by Washington Hancock Community Agency and the Blue Hill Library that the budget committee and selectmen had lowered in their recommendations were restored by voters, adding a total of just under $10,000 to the municipal budget.
“Everything [requested] was up this year,” Budget Committee Chairman Darlene Hatch said, and the committee tried to balance its recommendations against increased costs for emergency services.
Voters also approved marking $100,000 in surplus as matching funds for grant applications for a $500,000 pedestrian sidewalk project undertaken by Blue Hill Community Group, which will try to raise the actual sum through donations.
“It’s important to figure out how to make our town more accessible to pedestrians, especially short ones,” Amy Grant said, noting her child had been hit by a car while crossing a downtown street.
The Salt Pond properties, one on the pond and one across the street, were the subject of three articles appearing through citizens petitions that were discussed as one topic, despite moderator Scott Miller’s admonishments.
The first article asked that voter approval be required to sell the shore parcel. It passed nearly unanimously.
The second and third articles requested that proceeds from the sale of the second property be used to develop access to the pond from the shore parcel, and directed selectmen to develop the shore parcel to provide that public access.
“We’ve held onto it, waiting for the market to recover,” Bannister said of the first, shore-side parcel.
Geoff Anthony, the Marine Resources Committee member who submitted the three petitions, noted that the town has owned the property since 1998, and current access at Falls Bridge is a safety hazard.
“$35,000 will get you a drive to the water and a parking lot. It’s very do-able,” Anthony said.
“The [Marine Resources] Committee has been trying to get Salt Pond access forever and the selectmen have done nothing,” noted Jay Marsh.
Selectmen cited the property’s steep descent to the water, and that it was hidden from view, which would lead to vandalism, as reasons against public use. Neighboring property owners also spoke to the strong current at the site and traffic safety issues.
Newly elected Selectman Ellen Best, speaking from the floor, spoke in favor of the articles.
“Is it steep? Not that steep,” she said. “I do think it’s time this town address access for recreational use. We’ve been hearing about it for 40 years. Here’s a piece. We already own it.”
Voters agreed by majority vote on both articles.
They also overwhelmingly passed articles funding renovations to Blue Hill Consolidated School that will refinish the parking lot, install a sprinkler system and address other fire code needs, re-purpose space for more classrooms, upgrade the electrical system, fix moisture issues in the gym and purchase new bleachers.
“Why has it been over a decade that things haven’t been attended to?” Stephen Williamson asked, pointing specifically to violations of the fire safety code and parking lot, and alleging negligence.
Architect Matthew Carter, contracted by Brewer engineering firm CES, outlined the process whereby code shortfalls are discovered: through a renovation project or a change in use. Both of these occurred at BHCS when CES did a code search as part of its usual process and when the state fire marshal inspected the building for a new after-school program.
Superintendent Mark Hurvitt disagreed with the charge of negligence. “I do think the board over the years has been on top of things,” he said, “but we’re at the point where [the facilities’ needs] are just too big for our regular budget.”
The $1.5 million bond and $203,000 in surplus requested for the renovations were both recommended by selectmen and the finance committee.
John Bannister 262
Ellen Best 499
School Board, 2 seats
Jonathan Smallidge 489
Amy Houghton 382
Rebecca Conable 290
Planning Board, 2 seats
Scott Miller 598
Pete Coleman 148
Other Write-ins 58
Straw Poll Results (non-binding)
Should the Town approve operation of the following retail marijuana establishments:
Retail Stores: Yes 198; No 320
Cultivation Facilities: Yes 263; No 257
Manufacturing Facilities: Yes 211; No 303
Testing Facilities: Yes 220; No 294
Social Clubs: Yes 141; No 369
Should the Town prohibit all operation of the above marijuana establishments: Yes 252; No 262