AUGUSTA — In the wake of her video critical of Augusta city officials posted to Facebook Friday afternoon, Laura Benedict has received thousands of comments of support from across the country and hundreds of thousands of views.

Her clarifying post, posted several hours later that corrects some of the inaccuracies in her video has received only a tiny fraction of the attention, with about 400 comments and 386 shares.

Now Augusta city officials are fielding calls, emails and posts to the city’s website from people from all over who have seen the piece.

“There’s been a lot of uninformed negative comment,” Augusta City Manager Bill Bridgeo said Saturday. “None have been threatening or over the top. Mostly they are of the ‘What the hell is wrong with you and the city of Augusta, you unpatriotic heathens?’ variety.”

Augusta was thrust into the spotlight when Red Barn owner Laura Benedict’s responded to receiving a proposed consent agreement from the city by taking her frustration over a noise complaint to a large audience via Facebook video.

In the 2 minute 13 second video, a visibly emotional Benedict said she was “being fined $200 for sending our heroes to Washington, D.C.” She said taxpayers’ money had been wasted.

“The Red Barn is being fined for orchestrating an NBC Evening News No. 1 million viewed video that put Augusta, Maine, on the map, incidentally, and sent most of our beautiful heroes down to Washington for the last time,” she said.

In fact, Benedict has not been fined and the event cited in the consent agreement was not the fundraiser for Honor Flight Maine, a nonprofit organization that flies veterans to Washington, D.C., to see their memorials.

Augusta ordinances include a provision for a mass gathering permit, which allows permit holders to exceed the city’s noise limit for events.

The July 6, 2016, event was a concert at the restaurant that prompted two visits by police over noise complaints. A second event, on June 11, 2017, was also cited, although city officials are not proposing a fine for that event. While Benedict’s employees dropped off an application for a mass gathering permit, no one was available to sign it before the event took place.

“She was presented with a consent agreement to be discussed and signed,” Augusta Mayor David Rollins said Saturday. “She never read (it) and went out on the video and she assumed she was being fined when no fine has been put in place yet.”

Sometime on Saturday, the video was removed from the Red Barn’s Facebook page. Even so, the video still exists, and as of 5:30 p.m. on Saturday it had been viewed more than 904,000 times and generated more than 2,400 comments.

At noontime Saturday, Benedict told reporters she didn’t want to be interviewed, and she did not immediately return a phone call Saturday afternoon. Benedict has put on concerts and fundraising events at her restaurant on Augusta’s east side for years.

Rollins was named in the video, as were all members of the Augusta City Council. Rollins said the city had not spent a year investigating the noise complaint.

“Why she chose to handle it this way I can’t even speculate, and I don’t want to,” Rollins said. “A civil discussion would have avoided all of this.”

Rollins took to Facebook early Saturday to post his own statement.

“Let’s keep cool and work this out. We all love the Red Barn and are proud of all the good work they have done, for veterans, those in medical need, schools and much more. I will meet with City Manager Bill Bridgeo on Monday and we will put together a plan of action. Remember, we all must obey the laws and ordinances, and when neighbors complain someone is going to investigate to address the issue(s). Everyone relax, have a great weekend, go for a swim and if your hungry, go to the Red Barn … tell them the Mayor sent you!”

City officials said both Friday and Saturday that they support Benedict’s charitable work. But they also say that neighbors have complained about the noise. The Red Barn’s immediate neighbors to the north and south didn’t appear to be home Saturday.

One of them, Brian King, declined to comment when reached by phone.

Michael Johnston, who lives on the other side of the King property, said the music is pretty loud.

“I was walking a half-mile out in the woods one time and I could hear it like it was my own radio,” he said.

Not every concert held there is as loud as that one, he said; but when the music is loud, it’s annoying.

Neighbors who live north of Johnston’s apartment building, Kathy Tozier and Stephanie Sherman, said they can’t hear the noise over the traffic passing by on Riverside Drive.

In the midst of the initial storm, the office of Rep. Bruce Polquin, R-Maine released a statement, which included a link to the video, in support of veterans.

On Saturday, a Polquin spokesman said Poliquin’s statement still stands.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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