WISCASSET — As a business-led lawsuit against the Maine Department of Transportation is being appealed by the plaintiffs, the town of Wiscasset is aiming to launch its own lawsuit on a controversial Route 1 project.

Wiscasset’s select board voted 3 – 2 on Nov. 7 to hire their own attorneys and pursue court action in the hopes of forcing Maine DOT to reconsider parts of the $5 million downtown project, which would install traffic lights, eliminate on-street parking, and more. The board has voted multiple times to not support different aspects of the project, first sending a letter in June, then voting during a public comment portion of the meeting in October to no longer support the project at all.

The latest vote to pursue legal action is a new step in opposition to the project. The town has already decided to move forward to retain the services of Murray, Plumb & Murray in Portland. Peter Murray and John Bannon, attorneys with the firm, are now acting on the town’s behalf.

Long-time residents of Wiscasset may recognize Murray’s name. Town Manager Marian Anderson said he was, “instrumental in the negotiations of the Maine Yankee Tax Impact Agreement.”
Officials with Maine DOT said they were “surprised and disappointed” by the new development.

“The vote follows what Maine DOT had believed were constructive and positive discussions between Maine DOT and town representatives, as well as efforts by Maine DOT to work with local businesses to address concerns over the removal of on-street parking along a section of U.S. Route 1,” said Ted Talbot, press secretary for Maine DOT.

“On June 20, 2016, the select board voted unanimously to move forward with the project. Since then, Maine DOT has proceeded on that basis and worked diligently on the final design of the project in coordination with the public advisory committee established by the select board for that purpose.”

Maine DOT also called the decision to pursue legal action a “step backwards,” and urged the select board to rethink the decision to pursue legal action.

At the same time as the town’s lawsuit is beginning, one led by Wicasset businesses continues. Robert S. Hark, representing Wawenock, LLC, filed notices of appeal on Nov. 10 regarding their ongoing suit against Maine DOT.

Wawenock and other enterprises owned by Ralph H. Doering and members of his family initially leveled nine separate allegations against Maine DOT.

Previously, Judge Richard Mulhern of the Business and Consumer Court ruled on Sept. 11 against Wawenock, dismissing all nine counts.

At the time, Mulhern wrote, “Plaintiffs have failed to state any claim for which this court may grant relief,” in his conclusion, even if all facts given by Doering were true.

His decision also cited the “doctrine of ripeness” as an important part of his ruling in favor of Maine DOT. The plaintiff’s claims, including harm stemming from the state pursuing eminent domain on Doering’s property, didn’t meet the threshold for a lawsuit, as any action on Maine DOT’s part had not actually happened yet.

“Such an argument would allow any would-be plaintiff disgruntled with a state agency to make an impermissible end run around the ripeness doctrine,” wrote Mulhern. “State agencies and courts alike would find themselves bogged down in ‘process’ litigation before the process.”

Regardless of the multiple lawsuits, Talbot said Maine DOT plans to continue efforts to work with Wiscasset on the project.

“Maine DOT urges the Select Board to reconsider its decision and to instead work with Maine DOT, rather than trying to delay the significant benefits, including improved safety and traffic flow, that this project will bring to Wiscasset and the region,” he said.