SACO — The Saco City Council decided Monday not to proceed with a proposal that would have prohibited newspaper companies from dropping off free papers on driveways or city sidewalks because of concerns that such an ordinance would be unconstitutional.

The proposal was generated by complaints about free newspapers that sit uncollected in driveways and roads long after they are delivered, but representatives of two local newspapers said they are confident they can work directly with residents to end unwanted deliveries and reduce litter. The proposal was addressed Monday in a workshop, and no formal vote was taken.

The issue is a perennial one in Biddeford, Saco and Old Orchard Beach, where melting snowbanks each spring reveal piles of newspapers that went uncollected by either residents or newspaper companies.

The proposed littering ordinance would have primarily affected delivery of the Journal Tribune’s free Sunday paper and the weekly Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier.

Councilor Les Smith Jr. brought up the issue after hearing complaints from a half-dozen neighbors and because of his own frustration with newspapers becoming litter in his neighborhood. He said he gets one paper delivered at each end of his circular driveway.

“It’s been a hot-button issue in Ward 2 since the snow started to melt,” he said. “It’s unsightly.”

Smith said complaints seem to intensify during winter, when a newspaper caught in a snowblower will either spew confetti across lawns or jam the machine and require a repair.

City Administrator Richard Michaud said his office rarely receives complaints about the free papers, and that he was surprised by how often city councilors hear from constituents about it. He said the city council has not formally addressed the issue in the past.

Tim Murphy, the city attorney, said he and attorneys for the Maine Municipal Association agree that a rule curtailing delivery of newspapers and advertisements could raise constitutional issues. “The consensus is that this wouldn’t survive in court,’ he said.

City Councilor Eric Cote said he has long been annoyed by the newspapers that sit uncollected in driveways, but said “the chances of having a constitutional ordinance are slim to none.” He urged newspaper companies to work more closely with residents to make sure papers are only delivered to homes where they are wanted.

Jim Freeland, publisher of the Journal Tribune, said he has four employees who spend three days each week picking up unwanted papers.

“That’s something we’ll continue to do regardless of this (proposed ordinance),” he said. “I don’t like to see papers in the road either. It does us no good to have people upset with us.”

David Clark, general manager of the Courier, said mailing the paper is cost prohibitive. The newspaper maintains a “do not deliver” list that is given to drivers each week. Since January, the newspaper has received 52 calls regarding delivery – 32 to resume delivery that was stopped for the winter and 20 to stop delivery, he said.

Freeland and Clark said they would like to hear from city officials and residents who are concerned about deliveries or papers that are not picked up.

Cote said he would like to see the council take another look at the issue in six months or a year, but for now is encouraged by the response of newspaper representatives.

“I think we can set this to rest,” Smith agreed. “But I’d like to see less deliveries in my neighborhood.”

In other business, the City Council voted 5-1, with Smith opposed, to move from June to November a referendum on a proposed $990,000 borrowing package that would pay for the replacement of the Stackpole Bridge, which is closed to traffic because of structural issues. A private group is trying to raise money to pay for restoration of the 166-year-old dry-stone bridge.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

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