The Times Record

HARPSWELL — The Mitchell Field Water Tower has been thrown yet another lifeline, with advocates circumventing the board of selectmen to call a town meeting for a second vote on whether to demolish it.

When offered the choice at the March town meeting of demolishing the unused tower or signing an agreement with an outside group to oversee its repair and reuse, Harpswell residents voted to send the tower to the scrap heap.

But a group of Harpswell residents calling themselves the Friends of Mitchell Field claim that decision was based on misinformation and have worked since then to force another vote.

In April, the group submitted to the town 351 valid signatures – more than required by law – calling for another vote. While that legally requires the town to call a town meeting, Town Attorney Amy Tchao informed the selectmen in May that courts have found some exemptions allowing towns to reject otherwise valid petitions. One allowed a town to reject a petition that sought to redo a recent vote.

Selectmen voted 2- 1 at the time to reject the petition and keep the March vote.

“I believe you and your group are absolutely unwilling to take ‘no’ for an answer,” said Selectmen Chairman Rick Daniel said of the Friends of Mitchell Field.

When reached for comment, Friends member Robert McIntyre denied that, saying that if the new article is rejected on Aug. 11 the group will drop its objections to demolition.

In April, Tchao warned selectmen that if they refused to call a town meeting, a rarely used provision of Maine law would allow the petitioners to do so through a notary public.

“This is a very odd and unusual provision of Maine law,” said McIntyre. “It is almost unprecedented for a select board to refuse a valid petition.”

After the selectmen dismissed a request to reconsider the petition last Thursday, representatives of Friends of Mitchell Field announced that they were calling a town meeting on Aug. 11 pursuant to that provision.

As written, the new article would repeal the March vote to demolish the water tower and authorize selectmen to enter into an agreement with Friends of Mitchell Field to oversee repair and reuse of the tower for five years, with possible extensions.

Among other things, the group has claimed that the town has misled the public on the amount of lead in the structure. The group recently had two chips of paint from the tower tested which showed lower levels of lead than was claimed at the town meeting.

“The reason that this is important … is that if there is a high level of lead content in the paint on the water tower it would require full encapsulation in order to either remove the paint and repaint it or demolish it,” which would cost more, said Dorothy Rosenberg, a member of Friends.

Chairman Daniel said it’s unclear whether that information would have swayed any votes at town meeting.

Because the town meeting has been called by residents and not the selectmen, the cost of running the election will fall on the nonprofit group.

But whether the meeting will take place remains to be seen. Tchao noted selectmen could take the question to court.

When reached Monday, Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said that the town was weighing its legal options.

“The special town meeting warrant, which was presented to the board Thursday night, has been referred to the town’s legal counsel,” Eiane said. “Essentially the selectmen will wait for advice from counsel on what if any action the board should consider taking.”

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