The trustees of the Portland Water District have scheduled a hearing next week to hear from the public about whether the district should continue to allow artists to use a wall on Portland’s East End Wastewater Treatment Facility for graffiti art.

Last month, the district’s board of trustees held a brief workshop to consider a request from Jay York, a Bayside resident and photographer, who has asked that the trustees ban artists from painting the wall with graffiti art and to use the wall for a mural.

However, after receiving more than 20 emails and messages asking the board to preserve the graffiti wall, the trustees decided to give the public a chance to weigh in. York was the only person who had asked the trustees to end the graffiti prior to the workshop.

Portland Water District Attorney Donna M. Katsiaficas has since posted a notice on the district’s website, which says the hearing will be held Jan. 25 in the Jeff Nixon Training Center, 225 Douglass St., Portland, starting at 7 p.m.

“The (Board of Trustees) Planning Committee will receive public comment on the use of the wall at the sewer treatment plant for graffiti art purposes,” Katsiaficas wrote in the notice.

Michelle Clements, the Portland Water District’s spokeswoman, said the planning committee will only be taking comments at the hearing. No formal action will be taken. The committee can make recommendations to the full board of trustees, who have given no indication yet as to whether they would consider a ban on graffiti art.

Katsiaficas told the trustees at their December meeting that it was the city that approached the Portland Water District 15 years ago to see if the district would allow graffiti art on the wall. There was an informal agreement reached to allow art and the water district only contacted the city once during that time period to complain about discarded paint cans.

Katsiaficas warned the trustees at their December workshop about the legal implications of banishing artists.

“It’s not advisable under the First Amendment to decide that some kinds of art are acceptable on that wall and some kinds are not,” she said. “It’s pretty much an all or nothing. You’re either going to allow art on that wall or not.”

The city’s Eastern Promenade Trail runs past the sewage treatment plant, coming within a few feet of the graffiti wall.

York said the wall sends a mixed message because graffiti is illegal elsewhere in the city and people who paint the wall litter the area and deface nearby rocks.

Supporters of the graffiti wall say they want to preserve it because it makes Portland unique and serves as a trailside attraction.

City Councilor Belinda Ray and Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling have both come out in support of keeping the graffiti wall. Strimling says if the wall is shut down, graffiti will increase in other parts of the city. Ray said the wall provides an open canvas on which artists can express themselves as well as gauge public reaction to their work.

The wall caused a controversy in September when an anonymous artist painted an image of Gov. Paul LePage clad in Ku Klux Klan garb. Later that same day, someone altered the painting to show LePage wearing Mickey Mouse ears. Strimling said the depiction bordered on hate speech and should be removed.

Correction: This story was updated at 2:25 p.m. on April 4 to correct an inaccurate description of Jay York’s comments.

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