An aerial view of the Village, or public end of Great Diamond Island, as it appeared in 2001. Islanders are exploring whether to follow the lead of Long Island, also in Casco Bay, and secede from Portland. Press Herald file photo

A group of Great Diamond Island residents is exploring whether to break away from the city of Portland and create a new town.

The Great Diamond Island Exploratory Committee said Thursday that it has gathered the required number of signatures to begin the legal process that could result in secession from Portland. It needed to get the signatures of more than half of the 75 registered voters who reside on the Casco Bay island.

Matt Hoffner, a spokesman for the committee, said it has collected the signatures of 45 registered voters. Islanders are expected to officially submit the petitions Monday and Portland has 30 days to certify the signatures.

Jessica Grondin, Portland spokeswoman, said the city would have no further comment on the petition process or calls for secession.

After the signatures have been certified, state law requires that islanders meet with city officials to see if the sides can resolve their issues. The secession process would move forward with a referendum vote if islanders and the city fail to reach a resolution, and the Legislature would also have to vote to approve it.  The process does not always prove successful – three island communities in Casco Bay serve as examples.

Chebeague Island, once part of the town of Cumberland, successfully seceded in 2007, but the Legislature in 2011 rejected Peaks Island’s bid to secede from Portland, saying that islanders did not follow the process spelled out in state law. An earlier secession attempt by Peaks also failed.

In 2007, the Legislature rejected a bill that would have allowed Peaks to form its own town. The rejection came despite the fact that 58 percent of islanders cast ballots in favor of leaving Portland. Lawmakers at the time said secessionists failed to show there was consensus on the island for separation from Portland.

Long Island officially seceded from Portland on July 1, 1993, becoming Maine’s 490th town. Long Islanders set out on their own after feeling ignored by the city and tiring of having to constantly fight for basic services.

Long Island has gone on to fix crumbling roads, open a town hall and community center and build a state-of-the-art library.

“Our residents are concerned that the issues facing our small island community are deemed unimportant by the city and the (more than) $2 million of annual property taxes collected from GDI property owners is significantly larger than the small amount spent by the city on providing services to GDI each year,” Hoffner said in a statement. “The feeling among residents is that this is more than just a money issue, it truly is a cultural difference between the needs and priorities of a large city and the needs and priorities of a small island community.”

Chris Mooney, the other co-chair, said: “We are looking forward to sitting with the city and we are hopeful that they will respond positively to the issues we raise.”

The Exploratory Committee, which formed in late 2018, identified 12 issues that islanders are concerned about, ranging from the lack of parking and short-term docking space in Portland to road maintenance on the island, the need for full-time EMTs during the summer months, the lack of representation in Portland, and the level of taxation imposed by the city. Currently Great Diamond’s annual property tax bill is about $2 million.

Hoffner said that there are more than 300 summer or seasonal residents living on Great Diamond Island, and roughly 65 year-round residents. There are two distinct island communities, located at each end of the island. Diamond Cove is a private, residential community and the Village side of the island is public.

“GDI is a unique community of year-round, but mostly summer residents who require very little from a city in terms of municipal services,” according to the Exploratory Committee. “The needs of urban neighborhoods in Portland, compared to our small summer community are divergent and uneven. As time has progressed, the disparity has increased.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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