ROCKPORT — The developers of Rockport Village’s controversial downtown hotel can install an underground utility vault and power lines on town land, the Select Board decided Nov. 1.

The decision allows crucial winter work to continue on the $5 million project, which has had to overcome critics’ objections, court filings and stop work orders on its way to an anticipated opening in June 2023.

Tyler Smith, who with his parents, Stuart and Marianne Smith, are the owners and developers, addressed the special Select Board meeting Nov. 1. He said the whole idea driving an underground utility vault and utilities is to “future-proof” Rockport for power and other utility needs that are coming.

The board’s vote to approve the underground easement on public property in the parking lot behind the hotel came with no opposition from about 20 members of public who attended and after an explanation of the under-grounding from Tyler Smith.

Similar easements involving above-ground power poles, lines and transformers are routinely approved by towns throughout the state, Rockport Town Manager Jon Duke told the meeting. However, because of an unforeseen void in Rockport’s rules, the town did not have the legal authority to allow an underground easement, he told the board.

That realization a couple of weeks ago interrupted talks that had been going on for about a month with the Smith family, project engineers and Central Maine Power Company about their idea to underground power and other utility lines to the new hotel and install a underground vault on town land, according to Duke.

Central Maine Power is the official applicant for the easement as it was asked by the Smith family to move the utility lines from the front of their property on Central Street, bury them and install a vault.

To correct the legal issue, Rockport had to call a Town Meeting and ask voters if they would give the town the authority to make such utility decisions.

The Town Meeting also took place Nov. 1, right before the special Select Board meeting called to deal immediately with the hotel-related easement request in the event voters invested that power in the town.

Around 20 residents showed up for the Town Meeting, each one checked in by Town Clerk Linda Greenlaw. And when Moderator Brenda Richardson called for the vote, so many people held up blue cards indicating approval that a count was waived. When Richardson asked for dissenters, only two cards went up.

The vote was preceded by several questions from residents, which were addressed to Richardson, who then asked Duke to respond, following town meeting protocol.

Most had more to do with the actual easement application than the warrant question that asked if the town should have the authority to deal with such easements.

At least twice, residents’ questions were about whether this issue was being undertaken for the benefit of anyone in particular.

Duke responded that, yes, it was, but that it would apply equally to any future requests.

Another had to do with how long the town was being granted the authority if the vote was affirmative.

Duke said the authority, if granted, would only be in place until the next Town Meeting.

After the Town Meeting vote, the board took up the single issue on its agenda, whether or not to grant the easement, with the vote unanimous to do so.

Town documents explaining the easement request note that, if approved, “it will be CMP’s responsibility to ensure upkeep and maintenance of the vault in the easement area. In the near term, approval by the Select Board would authorize the Smiths to begin excavation and eventual road opening of Main Street to connect the vault location to the Sandy’s Way. The Smiths have committed to conducting their work outside of high traffic hours during the crossing of Main Street.”

The day after the vote, Tyler Smith talked to The Camden Herald about the issue and the status of the project.

He said that while the project would have moved forward without the underground easement, the family thought it very important to do something that would ‘future-proof” the town, echoing language he used at the meeting in speaking in favor of the utilities easement application.

He said that already there are plans by others to do more under-grounding of utility lines in the area. The work being done in conjunction with the hotel project, and which was made possible by the board’s action, will benefit all of that future work and help the city in that way, Smith said.

He said developers will spend about $15,000 for the underground vault itself and a total of $80,000 to underground power and data lines for their project.

Had the easement been denied, he said, the lines all would have had to be assigned to more poles and would have resulted in even more unsightly utility lines and transformers.

“The whole reason,” for under-grounding everything, he said, was to do something that would benefit the town in the future.

And of the $5 million being spent on the project, he said, about 80 percent of that is going to local tradespeople.