A public works employee clears the sidewalk on North Street on Tuesday in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Roads cannot be taken care of if public works departments are affected by the coronavirus, so area officials are coming together to propose a mutual aid agreement of sorts pending town government approval.

Fairfield, Oakland, Waterville and Winslow are lined up to propose resolutions to their respective town government bodies for the agreement, which identifies priority plowing routes and areas that need to be maintained in each municipality. It’s about being proactive should any problems arise.

“This is pretty much just because of COVID-19,” Winslow Public Works director Paul Fongemie said. “We all started talking together, and what if one of us gets shut down? Unfortunately in the winter time we can’t control the weather, so talking to some of the other area directors we all had the same question.

“It won’t be perfect, but it will keep the main arteries open.”

The towns don’t have to pay into the arrangement, and it is not quite the same type of mutual aid agreement fire and emergency services have.

Fongemie floated the idea out to other local public works directors at the beginning of November. A face-to-face meeting a couple weeks ago brought area officials together, and most of the towns that sent representatives signed up for it.

Waterville Public Works Director Matt Skehan was on board from the beginning. He said he’s seen other communities engaged in similar discussions.

“We want to help just as much as everyone else wants to help,” Skehan said. “It’s a strange time where none of us are familiar with how things would look like if our crew got hit with the coronavirus. We’re human beings, and we want to help one another.”

The Waterville Public Works Department has 25 full-time employees and Winslow Public Works has 15 full-timers. Fairfield Public Works has 11 full-time employees. Oakland has eight full-time employees.

“If one municipality is stricken with COVID-19, who is going to plow these roads?” Fairfield Public Works Director Bruce Williams said. “We’re going to depend on area communities is the hope of this.”

A public works employee clears the sidewalk on Gilman Street on Tuesday in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

An official legal agreement is in the works. The Waterville area group is all in line, as the bordering communities are together. Going to Augusta or Skowhegan would be too far for most towns.

Other towns that could possibly become part of the agreement are China and Vassalboro. Both have fewer resources and cannot help out other towns to the degree Waterville and Winslow could. The mutual aid agreement centers mostly on manpower rather than material.

“It’s important for us to help them, but it’s important for us to take care of our own town first,” Skehan said. “We all agreed that we are not going to leave our citizens and residents before our town is safe.”

All of the public works directors interviewed for this story emphasized that they don’t necessarily want to use it, but it’s better to be prepared.

“We need to have a plan in case one of our departments gets hit,” Skehan said.

“We thought, as a group of municipalities, that it would be important to get some type of plan in place, just to be proactive,” Williams added. “It’s a worse case scenario plan, basically.”

Should a department be affected by COVID-19, towns would send a truck to the affected municipality. For example, a Winslow truck would go to Vassalboro if it was needed and Waterville would cover Winslow to keep crews closer to their resources.

The routes to be covered and their priority are still a work in progress as more municipalities catch on. The main streets and important areas to take care of have been identified, but the overall plans are fluid.

The goal is to keep the agreement beyond the pandemic.

“I see opportunities that it could happen,” Fongemie said. “I’d like to keep it active in case something happens to somebody.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.