Kennebunk’s Select Board adopted new rules concerning the town’s beaches at an online meeting Wednesday afternoon, April 8, in a session frequently interrupted by hackers. Here, Chair Blake Baldwin is shown in a file photo from a February meeting. Tammy Wells photo

KENNEBUNK — The beaches will remain off limits for the foreseeable future and now, so will the sidewalks and oceanside parking along Beach Avenue at Gooch’s, Middle and Mother’s beaches.

Members of the Kennebunk Select Board in an online meeting Wednesday afternoon, in a session marred by hackers, also voted to limit driving on Beach Avenue to only those who need to access their residences.

The Kennebunk Select Board, along with many municipal boards and councils across Maine, began using videoconferencing in an effort to keep within the state’s mandates for limiting public gatherings to 10 people and maintaining social distancing to prevent spread of coronavirus.

Public access to Parsons Beach will also remain closed.

Select Board members discussed the merits of allowing local pedestrian access to Beach Avenue and debated whether motorists should be allowed to drive along the avenue to view the ocean, but in the end, voted that only local traffic would be allowed.

Select Board member Frank Paul said weekends particularly have the potential to draw crowds.

“We’re all going stir crazy” by limits associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, said Paul. “As much as I hate to do it, I think we should close the beach and sidewalks.” He said he would prefer to keep Beach Avenue open for motorists, who like to drive by to see the ocean.

Select Board member William Ward agreed with leaving the road open for motorists.

“The beaches are one of the great things about Kennebunk and are clearly a place that will draw people. If there is parking available, they will use it,” said Select Board member Shiloh Schulte.

While many have respected social distancing rules on Beach Avenue sidewalks, not everyone has, Schulte noted.

The town’s beaches were first closed a couple of weeks ago after several other communities to the south took the step.

The online meeting, facilitated by the Zoom application, was marked by hackers using foul language and making offensive remarks during the public comment period, which was then terminated by a Select Board vote. Hackers repeatedly seized control of the screen, displaying crude, suggestive drawings, photos, and at one point flashing an image of Adolph Hitler as a resident voiced displeasure that the meeting was held that day, as Passover was to commence at sundown.

The town’s technical personnel took steps to halt the hackers and town officials said additional measures would be taken to prevent hacking for future online meetings.

“Prior to the meeting, security measures designed to prevent such conduct on the electronic platform were reviewed and believed engaged,” said Town Manager Michael Pardue in a Thursday morning email. “Clearly, additional security measures are needed. I have ensured the latest version of the selected platform is being used and, asked the town of Kennebunk’s information technology staff to review the security steps we are utilizing, and to implement any others available.”

“It is unconscionable that incidents of this nature are initiated by people seeking to offend and threaten well-meaning citizens who are trying to electronically participate in this new form of open meeting,” Pardue said. “Citizen participation in the proceedings of government is critical to government working effectively. It is the town’s goal to make the electronic platform being used to conduct the work of government in a transparent manner a much-improved experience in the future.”

The FBI’s Boston Division has advised that victims of a teleconference hijacking, or any cyber-crime, report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov. The FBI asks that anyone who receives a specific threat during a teleconference, report it at tips.fbi.gov or call the FBI Boston Division at 857-386-2000.

Given the hacking and unrelated intermittent audio issues, the Select Board agreed to put off a discussion on Pay-As-You-Throw trash bags until the online meeting scheduled for April 14.

“Our hope is that residents who are able to use the town’s trash bags will continue to do so, as the cost of the curbside collection service is paid through the purchase of these bags,” town officials said in a written statement. “Residents that have concerns about entering stores for this purchase or are experiencing an economic setback, may use any bag they have available. This is in effect through April 30.”

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: