ROCKPORT — Incumbent Select Board member Denise Munger faces a challenge from former Select Board member James Annis.

Camden Herald: Why are you running?

Munger: I have enjoyed working for the residents of Rockport these past three years. I care deeply about this wonderful community of ours and would like to continue working on the many important issues for the Town. I believe it is helpful to have some continuity in the people working on these issues, as there is background and experience that play an important role in moving these issues forward.  Our current Select Board members work well together and yet represent diverse viewpoints within the community.  My legal background, which involved working on contentious environmental issues that were best resolved in negotiations rather than in court, gives me a unique skill that brings together both the legal background and the people skills to work together to find common ground to resolve similarly contentious issues.

CH: What is your profession?

M: I am a lawyer and practiced law for over 30 years. I am now retired, and my husband and I moved to Midcoast Maine, a place we have known and loved for 30 years, to be with family.

CH: Education?

M: College (1981); law school degree (1985).

CH: Other committees you have served on?

M: Parks & Beautification Committee, Legacy Rockport, the Midcoast Internet Development Corporation, and Midcoast Council of Governments. I also serve as the Select Board liaison to the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Ordinance Review Committee, the Library Committee, and the Economic Development Committee, as well as Parks & Beautification.

CH: What will you do about the breakdown in communication between Camden and Rockport concerning sewer fees?

M: I believe that with the right people in the room we can resolve this issue with Camden. We both want a reasonable, fair solution for our respective sewer users and rate payers. As I have had informal discussions with Camden Select Board representatives, it has become apparent that we are relying on different sets of facts and have some misunderstandings. So, as a first step, we need to sit down together and agree on the facts — what the current agreement requires for payment, how payments have been handled in the past, and what the correct payment amount under the agreement for recent wastewater use should be. I am one of the two Rockport Select Board members chosen by the Select Board to be on the Administering Committee to represent Rockport’s interests in discussions with Camden. While Camden has not yet responded to our request to work together and use the Administering Committee provided for in the contract between the towns to resolve this issue, that is the legal mechanism provided to resolve such disputes between the parties. I also believe that ongoing discussions with Camden Select Board representatives on this and other matters is good for Rockport and reaching a mutually acceptable agreement on this issue.

A separate concern from sewer fees, is what the long term relationship between Camden and Rockport will be for treating wastewater. While sewer fees are part of the concern, the other concern is long term management of and treatment of Rockport’s wastewater by Camden. Camden has expressed concern publicly with whether their wastewater treatment plant has the capacity to handle both towns’ wastewater for the long term. Camden had never mentioned this concern in their sewer fee discussions with us.  This could be a game changer and could potentially result in Rockport either building its own wastewater treatment plant or work on a regional model of wastewater treatment. However, either of those options would take some time to implement, so in the meantime, we will need to work with Camden to find either an interim solution or a longer term solution. As with the police discussion below, I do think there is benefit to both Rockport and Camden residents, for the two towns to work together to share municipal services when that can be agreed on and worked out fairly to both towns.

CH: What are your thoughts on sharing the police department with Camden?

M: This is a great example of cooperation between Rockport and Camden that benefits both towns. Chief Gagne does a tremendous job of providing excellent leadership and policing service to both towns. Being able to share costs of providing essential municipal services is a model that would make sense to explore beyond the police departments.

CH: What would you like to see happen with the RES site?

M: We’re still in the process of gathering public input on the RES site and hearing from all of our residents what they would like to see happen at the RES site. We should have more information from our partners who have been focused on this issue over the last 6 months, the NewHeight Group, in the next month or so. They have conducted a number of listening sessions with various stakeholders throughout the town and will share what they have learned with the Rockport public.

I have heard a number of exciting, creative ideas, and of course, there have been ideas and principles of development put together by prior Select Boards.  Currently, the town spends a significant amount of money to maintain the site and yet receives no tax revenue to offset these expenses. Also, the site with the exposed concrete and weeds is an eyesore. The Shotwell Drive-in has been a good temporary use of the site while we move forward as a community to decide what is next for the RES site.  I personally would like to see the site generate some tax revenue for the Town and include much needed housing for young families, seniors, and workers.  I believe that additional housing would improve the Rockport tax base, would increase users on the sewer which would keep those rates down, would allow us to find good employees for the town and our local businesses, and would allow young families to take advantage of our excellent local schools and build depth to our community.  Such housing could be a continuation of the housing from Pascal Ave. and along West St. neighborhoods; it should include public green space and could include retail gathering space.  However, those are just my personal views; as a Select Board member, I am looking forward to the recommendations of our partner, NewHeight Group, based on their discussions with the community and hearing further community input on those recommendations.

CH: What is your position on the issue of short-term rentals in the town? Should they be more heavily regulated?

M: The voters of Rockport have made it clear that they do not want regulation of short term rentals. I respect that decision and the many benefits to our residents of short term rentals that we heard about during the public hearings on this issue.

CH: Where do you stand on business and economic development in the community? Should Rockport seek business development, or should scenic/quality of life concerns take priority?

M: I would prioritize scenic/quality of life over business development, but I think we can do smart, targeted business development that does not put at risk our scenic/quality of life. Such business development can help expand our tax base and provide some relief to our residential taxpayers. Business development in Rockport must be balanced with the strong desire we all have to protect this wonderful community of ours. We like our small town, where neighbors know each other, help each other, where we support our local businesses, and they support our community. We have an active Economic Development committee that is currently working on a project to talk with our existing businesses about what support they would like to see to enhance their success in Rockport.  I like that ground-up approach to improve and strengthen what we have.  The Town is also considering extending the sewer out Route 90 to Route 17, which would allow for additional development along Route 90 and potential housing developments.  That is a long term project, but one that could enhance current properties and businesses in the area.

CH: What other issues would you like to discuss?

M: I have been very involved in the last year in working to bring high speed, affordable internet to all in Rockport.  Last summer Rockport entered into an agreement with Camden, and subsequently Thomaston and Rockland, to form the Midcoast Internet Development Corporation, a broadband utility under state law.  This makes us eligible to receive state and federal grant funding to expand internet in the Midcoast area, including Rockport. In addition, the nonprofit community utility would also own the fiber internet, which would allow us to keep the cost of internet service low since it would not need to generate a profit to pay its stockholders, as current for-profit internet companies must do.

The pandemic highlighted the importance of our residents having access to affordable, high speed internet. Such necessary access allows for telemedicine, new educational opportunities by remote learning, and increased year round residents who are now able to work remotely from Rockport.  Such opportunities are only as good as the internet available, and unfortunately for many parts of Rockport, our residents have not been able to participate in these opportunities as much as they would have liked because of the limits of affordable internet service.