AUGUSTA — The Augusta City Council has rescinded an emergency order declaring a disaster in the city of Augusta due to the coronavirus pandemic.

While guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are still in place, many of the measures that have been ordered since Augusta made its declaration in mid-March have been implemented statewide in a series of executive orders from Gov. Janet Mills.

“We still have all the state guidelines, and a lot of what the city was doing, the state is doing,” Roger Audette, fire chief and emergency management director for the city, said Monday.

“We have so many state guidelines that it makes the city’s stuff redundant. We don’t want people to let their guard down. We need to stay vigilant until a vaccine is available.”

City Manager William Bridgeo speaks in January during an Augusta City Council goal-setting event at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file Buy this Photo

Councilors voted 6-0 on Thursday to rescind Augusta’s disaster declaration order, which gave city officials — including Audette and City Manager William Bridgeo — authority to enact measures considered necessary to protect the public.

Among the most controversial was Bridgeo’s move to order bars to close on St. Patrick’s Day, as businesses were forced to close out of concern the public gatherings could spread the coronavirus.

“I knew I was in trouble the day the mayor declared the state of emergency, when (Audette) came to me and said: ‘Bill, you really don’t have a choice. You have to order the bars closed on St. Patrick’s Day,'” Bridgeo said. “Hopefully, it’s the last time we have to have a declared state of emergency.

“If things continue to be a challenge, we’ll deal with it in the normal course of how we deal with things. But it’s good to know when the chips are down, people in this community who lead it and work for it can pull it together and make it work.”

Audette and Police Chief Jared Mills said the rescinding of the local should not affect the Fire and Rescue and the Police departments. They said members of both departments will continue to follow pandemic protocols as they respond to calls in the city.

“I do not anticipate any changes,” Mills said. “Our procedures have been consistent with the state all along.”

Mayor David Rollins said he felt the city and state have responded well to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I thought the emergency order worked very well,” he said. “We’re one of the few states to have had success curtailing this, as opposed to many others that are having a big problem. I think that’s because the people of Maine have been very cooperative with this. It’s well-appreciated.”

Councilors praised Audette, Bridgeo and other city employees for their handling of the ongoing crisis.

“Chief Audette wrote a well-put-together emergency plan, and I thought he handled it with a pragmatic approach and without panic,” Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind said. “And his thoughtfulness as he moved forward, along with the city manager and city staff, I think helped citizens feel a little more comfortable during this scary, obscure time.”

Augusta’s now-rescinded order allowed the city manager to take a broad range of actions to protect the public once a disaster was declared, most of which were not taken.

Under city ordinance, those included the ability to:

• Control access to a disaster area, and the movement of people and occupancy of dwellings within the area.

• Suspend the sale of alcoholic beverages, firearms, ammunition and explosives.

• Suspend the city government’s routine hours of the operation.

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