A group of residents is contemplating the next steps in their push to secede from Portland. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — Situated less than 2 miles offshore from the Eastern Promenade, Great Diamond Island is just a 25-minute ferry trip away, but residents are looking to secede due to a growing disconnect from the state’s largest city.

“We are so different than Portland. We don’t have immigrants. We don’t have crime. We don’t have housing issues. We don’t have the big city problems Portland has to address. Our values and issues are so different than the city of Portland’s,” Matt Hoffner, co-chair of Great Diamond Island Exploratory Committee said. 

The committee started the secession process earlier this summer, but the effort got tripped up when the petition they supplied to the city fell two signatures short.

Despite this, residents of Great Diamond Island have not lost hope that one day, the island could be its own community.

“This may be a long process but one that we are determined to see to the end,” Hoffner said.

State law requires a secession petition be signed by more than 50 percent of registered voters in the secession territory. City voter registration rolls indicate there are 98 registered voters on the island, meaning the petition had to be signed by 50 people. City Clerk Kathy Jones has said her office was only able to verify 48 names.

Hoffner said the 48 should be more than enough and questions the list the city has of registered voters on the island.

“This is an island community that has a year-round population of 60 people, including children. In order to be a registered voter, this needs to be your primary residence. We know all the island residents,” he said.

The committee has asked the clerk’s office to validate the list of registered voters on the island to make sure it doesn’t include those who have passed away or moved.

The city stands behind the list of voters it used to certify signatures.

“We used the state-controlled Central Voter Database to certify the petitions,” Jones said in an email.

The committee is debating its next step – asking the Secretary of State’s office to validate the island’s voter rolls or submitting a new petition.

“I think we could do a second petition pretty quickly, but the fact the city is hiding behind fraudulent voter registration rolls, that is just wrong,” Hoffner said.

Islanders have concerns that are not being addressed, Hoffner said, despite the fact that Portland is getting $2 million in annual property taxes from Great Diamond.

City Communications Director Jessica Grondin said officials visit each city owned-island in Casco Bay every summer to connect with residents and hear concerns they might have. The city also has employees that are tasked to improve island life.

“We do have a crew that services the islands and they do a good job,” Grondin said.

Residents, Hoffner said, have issues with the condition of gravel roads throughout the island and erosion on either end, as well as a lack of broadband internet access because, according to Hoffner, the island was left out of Portland’s contract with Spectrum. There is also concern about how much of a voice residents have in city government, especially those part-time residents who cannot vote in local elections.

Grondin said the city offered to begin using a new material on the roads that holds up better to island conditions. It was piloted on Peaks Island and has worked well there.

Hoffner said residents are also concerned about the logistics of getting school-aged children from the island to city schools and where islanders can park their vehicles, which they need to leave on the mainland when they head to the island because Great Diamond Island is not serviced by a car ferry.

“We continually come up with parking solutions and other places for islanders to park,” Grondin said. The city began running the Island Shuttle, which brings island residents from the Park and Ride on Marginal Way to the ferry terminal on Commercial Street.

Hoffner said if the $2 million per year in taxes islanders pay to Portland “were kept on island, we could address all these issues and more.”

If successful, Great Diamond Island would be the second island community to break away from Portland. Long Island split from the city in 1993 and formed its own community.

 

 

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