WISCASSET — As a nearly lifelong resident of Wiscasset, I have a deep commitment and motivation to work toward having my hometown reach its great potential. On Tuesday, Wiscasset has the opportunity to take a major step toward that goal by stopping the lawsuit against the Maine Department of Transportation and moving forward with MDOT’s plans for Main Street.

In June 2016, 722 Wiscasset residents cast nonbinding ballots on three separate MDOT proposals to address our town’s Main Street traffic issues; 426 of these voters selected the second of the options presented by MDOT. Option 2 calls for eliminating Main Street parking and replacing it by constructing two parking lots and additional parking spaces away from Main Street.

Following the citizen referendum, I voted for Option 2 as a Wiscasset Select Board member. The Select Board vote was unanimous.

Then last November, the Select Board by a 3-2 vote initiated a lawsuit against MDOT. The suit called for maintaining Main Street parking and requiring the state agency to obtain a certificate of appropriateness from the Wiscasset Historic Preservation Commission in order to demolish the Haggett Garage and create off-street replacement parking.

To settle the lawsuit, the town and MDOT, through joint negotiations, came to a consent agreement that MDOT would go before the Historic Preservation Commission to secure the certificate, then proceed with the demolition and construction of alternative parking as called for under Option 2.

On Feb. 13, the Select Board met to sign off on the deal. But at that meeting, two of the three board members who had voted to sue MDOT last fall – and one who had opposed filing the lawsuit – rescinded their apparent support of the consent judgment. A week later, board members agreed to hold a townwide referendum on whether to proceed with the suit.

This MDOT project is a huge step forward for Wiscasset. In recent years, new shops have opened and are flourishing. These shops have established a devoted clientele that does and will continue to seek out these shops. These shops support the project.

One local business owner has said “it will devastate the business community” if MDOT eliminates parking on Main Street and does not construct alternative spaces. He is correct – and Wiscasset’s attorneys have suggested that is what’s likely to happen if the town continues to pursue the lawsuit against MDOT.

I walk the village often. The Main Street parking spaces allow cars, vans and trucks to back out into this busy Route 1 corridor, which both slows the flow of traffic and creates dangerous situations. The movement of pedestrians, much of which is done outside of designated crosswalks, adds to the risk of accidents. The project will not only improve the flow of traffic through our town but also will greatly increase vehicular and pedestrian safety.

Wiscasset Thinks Forward is a group made up of residents, including business owners, who support this project. The media have heard much from those in opposition to the Main Street project, a group with a loud voice and deep pockets. Out of those pockets, the group has offered to pay the town’s costs in its legal action against MDOT.

The town’s attorneys have said that accepting private money for the lawsuit, while legal, is not appropriate. Wiscasset Thinks Forward agrees. Wiscasset is not for sale. We have pride in our town. We will not be bribed. We have found our voice. We will continue to use it.

On Tuesday, Wiscasset has an opportunity to stop the lawsuit against MDOT. Because the Select Board has set no cap on how much it is willing to spend on the lawsuit and appeals, the costs could total in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Legal expenses thus far must surely be approaching $100,000.

A vote to stop the suit will ensure that no more money is spent and Wiscasset can move forward to improve the parking situation, the traffic flow and pedestrian safety, as well as moving forward to reach its great potential.

 

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