Ideas, accusations fly at community meeting
Camden — A more-than-two-hour meeting between Millville residents and North East Mobile Health Services resulted in a number of suggestions, accusations toward town officials and few solid answers Aug. 21.
The meeting, which was open to all members of the public, drew about three dozen residents, town officials and North East employees. Loosely moderated by Eleanor Masin-Peters, the meeting at times ranged from official presentations to back-and-forth banter between residents and town officials.
Letter to Select Board from neighbors released Aug. 22
Neighbors of the tannery property sent a letter to Selectmen following an Aug. 21 meeting with North East Mobile Health Services that states the town could be legal liable for consequences if the sale goes through.
The letter, drafted with help from an attorney, says Selectmen ignored the recommendations of a 2008 tannery redevelopment report, which define acceptable use of the property. Particularly, neighbors highlight potential issues with a “significant loud outside noise component” as well as “any business that imposes a hazardous or dangerous environment on the neighborhood.”
Regarding noise, neighbors wrote sirens are set at a level of 120 decibels, which “carry a risk of instantaneous noise-induced hearing loss,” the letter states. Neighbors countered the argument made by North East that sirens will only be used when it is absolutely necessary -- at major intersections -- and said the entrance of the facility onto Washington Street is itself a major intersection.
“Indeed, Washington Street – also known as state Route 105 – is a major conductor of steady traffic, including trucks, that funnels in from the more than half dozen outlying towns. It would be hazardous for ambulances even to exit the driveway onto Washington Street without activating their sirens,” neighbors wrote.
Narrow streets further compressed by snow would make it nearly impossible for ambulances to traverse side streets in the winter, while cars parked alongside the roads in the summer would present a similar issue, the letter states. Neighbors acknowledge the Select Board is authorized to place restrictions on use of the property but fear the restrictions are not realistic.
“However, it would be operationally impossible for the Select Board to impose on NEMHS a condition that its ambulances may not use sirens, may travel at only posted speed limits and must obey all all stop signs and other traffic signals applicable to ordinary motorists,” neighbors wrote. “ … For all of the above reasons, the Select Board has no authority to agree to sell the tannery site to NEMHS. Should it do so, it will be in breach of Article 10, section 1, thereby subjecting the Board to a legal action nullifying any such conveyance. It would be unfair to both the citizens of Camden and to NEMHS if the Select Board attempted to take action it has no power to take.”
Selectmen are expected to vote on a purchase and sale agreement with North East Tuesday, Aug. 26, for the former tannery property at 116 Washington St.
Just before the meeting drew to a close around 10 p.m., several town officials and residents began to speak more to each other than about the possibility of the ambulance service purchasing the property. Rawson Avenue resident Tom Resek inquired if the ambulance service had the means to pay for a lawsuit should his property become contaminated by chemicals remaining on the tannery site and was admonished by Town Manager Patricia Finnigan, who said "[North East representatives] are guests in our town."
A number of residents accused town officials of trying to sneak through a sale of the property without going through proper channels. Resident Carla Ferguson, who lives on Rawson Avenue, also said the ambulance service chose to ignore restrictions placed on the site.
"I know why you want it. Because it's a cheap place," she said, before being hushed by Masin-Peters.
Several other residents wondered if the town could broker a deal with PAWS animal shelter to give up the former Camden First Aid Association building on John Street so North East could establish its base there. Selectman John French noted the purchase of the property was a private sale in which the town was not involved. North East Mobile Health President Dennis Brockway said the company did try to work with the bank to purchase the John Street facility, but was outbid by PAWS.
"It would have been a great location," he said. "But somebody had more money than we did."
Another location considered and discarded was a former car dealership on Route 1 in Rockport, he said. Brockway said other locations aside from those three had been considered, but declined to identify any other possible properties. He also was unable to provide any further information about what a potential structure might look like, as the company is still in the early stages of the idea.
A concept sketch provided to local media was maligned by residents for having a two-way access on Rawson Avenue and North East officials pointed out the plan was created by Landmark at the behest of the town, not the ambulance service. Residents continued to question North East officials about the structure, with some asking why -- when the Topsham base was called similar to the current Rockport location -- a better concept could not be presented.
"I hate to throw something out there because we don't know," North East Chief Operating Officer Butch Russell said, noting the structure will be required to get Planning Board approval.
Residents expressed concerns about not only sirens but also the lighting of the structure at night as well as the sound of the large vehicles traveling down the road. Russell said there would be little oil and no gas stored on site because the fleet maintenance facility is in Scarborough.
"It's a great service proposed for a lousy location," one resident said, echoing the sentiments of several others.
Turning the property into a park also was a common theme.
Selectman Leonard Lookner pointed out he has for years fought to keep the decision on how to dispose of the tannery property in the hands of voters, to no avail. He noted ideas have been talked about, including a park, but he was not able to garner enough community support.
"A month ago, it could have been one of those things, two months ago," he said.
As they had previously at a Select Board meeting, neighbors asked town officials what could be done to prevent a sale to North East. Some even pledged money toward purchase of the property. Selectman Jim Heard explained any offer received now would be considered a secondary offer that would only be addressed if the primary offer from North East fell through. Finnigan noted selectmen are not bound to approve the purchase and sale agreement and if it is approved, both sides have 90 days to make a final decision.
Following the close of the meeting, Brockway said he did not know what kind of reaction to expect from residents before coming to Camden, but concluded information was presented as well as could be done, considering the short time frame. He said he expected to attend Tuesday's Select Board meeting, as well to answer further questions posed by residents as he is able.
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Stephanie is editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. She previously served as editor of Camden Herald following its return in April 2012.
Stephanie also was editor of VillageSoup's Capital Weekly in Augusta and has nearly a decade of experience in the newspaper business ranging from southern and central Maine to Waldo County.
Outside the office, she enjoys reading, cooking and gardening.
Stephanie lives in Washington with her husband Jeff, four children, a dog named Chewbacca, a rabbit and chickens.