PORTLAND – The way Keith Gosselin sees it, graffiti is graffiti, whether it’s a cartoonish tag on the side of a building or a construction engineer’s spray-painted marks on a sidewalk.

“It’s a giant abomination to our town,” said Gosselin, who works for the Council on International Educational Exchange on Fore Street. He can see the marks being painted on streets, curbs and sidewalks in preparation for a natural-gas line replacement project.

“I recognize that we have to be repairing things, and projects are projects, but this is really madness,” he said.

Gosselin said his main concern is that the marks are being painted on and around Exchange Street, marring the heart of the city’s Old Port, a major tourist destination.

He noted that city officials are trying to crack down on graffiti, including a proposal to fine property owners who don’t clean up graffiti on their property within 10 days of being notified by the city.

Gosselin said there are no such penalties for the graffiti-like marks that remain near his workplace two years after a bike post was installed on a sidewalk.

The gas lines are being replaced by New Hampshire-based Unitil, which will tear out old cast-iron pipes and replace them with plastic. In recent weeks, crews from Central Maine Power Co., the Portland Water District and other utilities have been marking the locations of their pipes and lines so work crews can avoid them when they begin tearing up streets for the gas project.

The markings can be extensive. Crews recently went through the block of Exchange Street between Federal and Middle streets, leaving dozens of red, green, yellow, blue and orange marks on the pavement and brick sidewalks, in front of businesses and through Tommy’s and Post Office parks.

Most of the marks will be covered by the repaving of Exchange Street that will be done after gas lines are replaced, said Ted O’Meara, a spokesman for the contractor on the project, New England Utility Constructors.

He said he was unable to determine Thursday whether the contract calls for other marks to be removed, or whether the type of paint that’s being used is designed to wear off quickly.

The work is expected to start during the week of April 11, he said, with the contractor aiming to finish before Memorial Day.

At The Grill Room on Exchange Street, bartender John Myers said he is “glad they’re marking the street, rather than plowing into something and creating a problem.”

A few stores away, at Folly 101, shop owner Astrid Vigeland said she’s more worried about safety, and how customers will get to her store during the construction, than about spray-paint marks that are likely to be covered in a few weeks.

But Gosselin said aesthetics matter, too, and squiggly lines, arrows and obscure marks that indicate which utility is underfoot can have a dollars-and-cents impact.

“This can’t be the solution,” he said. “This is the middle of our tourist area.”

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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