A workshop 122 years in the making
Rockport — For the first time in 122 years, the Camden and Rockport select boards met Jan. 29 to discuss ways to strengthen bonds between the two communities.
According to Rockport Select Board Chairman Bill Chapman, the two select boards had not jointly met since 1891.
Camden Select Board Chairman Martin Cates cited previous work with the Rockland Economic Development Advisory Committee as evidence of Midcoast municipalities' abilities to work together.
Cates said the groups found that "yes, we could maintain our diversity of culture, but we could also find identity in working together."
Rockport Selectman Ken McKinley added, "The more we can find ways to work together...we'll all benefit."
Discussion regarding local development opportunities took precedence during the workshop. Chapman said his town is looking at Walmart's impending move out of its commercial street location "as a positive," and that the shift might provide opportunities for local businesses.
Chapman said Rockport has been in talks with Rockland to discuss developing the commercial strip. "How do you get people out of cars and then walking to different places?" Chapman asked.
One suggestion involved the expansion of sidewalks along Route 1 in the area of Hannaford grocery store and Camden boutique Leonard’s, which selectmen said would aid in the creation of a crosswalk near the Maritime Farms gas station and bus stop.
The area is “really the gateway to both towns,” said McKinley.
Chapman said the Pathways Committee, a joint venture between Camden and Rockport, raised the notion of creating a harbor walk.
"Rockland has their [harbor] walk, well, we're gonna have ours,” Chapman said. “Get people out of their cars and out of their houses and actually exercising and...being in the community."
"When somebody comes from away...the question is what else besides the harbor do they either come for or leave remembering?" Rockport Selectman Geoffrey Parker asked.
"There's all these little secrets and little gems that shouldn't be secret,” Parker continued. “They're gonna be gems, but they shouldn't be secrets”
Several members of the two boards referenced the work of the Camden-Rockport Bicycle and Pedestrian Pathways Committee, whose work, they said, used the northern Vermont Kingdom Trails Association as a model.
The select boards then discussed the possibility of creating a basic, cost-effective app — perhaps designed by a local information technology specialist — that could make local resources such as outdoor activities and businesses known to both residents and those "from away."
McKinley said the towns could view the impending retirement of Rockport Planner and Community Development Director Thomas Ford as "an opportunity to rework that position."
Camden Town Manager Patricia Finnigan said such a change might be something worth pursuing.
Also present at the joint workshop was State Rep. Joan Welsh, D-Rockport, who said that while she doesn't think the "draconian shift" required by Gov. Paul LePage is likely, there is a "big awareness at the state house" of the myriad ramifications of LePage's financial plans.
Camden Selectman Donald White presented a brief report from the Midcoast Transit Committee, which represents Camden, Rockport, Rockland, and Thomaston.
White said $60,000 in Department of Transportation and related funds are available for the creation of a transit system similar to that of Bar Harbor's Island Explorer buses. Following approval of matching funds from the involved towns and a lengthy search process, a consulting firm will soon be approved to conduct an 11-month feasibility study in the region.
According to White, the kickoff for the feasibility study is slated for late February.
The joint workshop concluded on a high note, with both boards agreeing that the meeting had been beneficial, and should be repeated in the near future. Immediate collaborative steps to be taken include joint meetings of like committees from each town, and investigation into the possibility of creating the local resources app.
The next joint meeting of the two select boards is scheduled for Wednesday, April 24, at Camden Town Office.
Courier Publications reporter Bane Okholm can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or by email at email@example.com.