SKOWHEGAN — A proposal to make improvements in an area downtown drew sharp concerns this week from a selectman and a nearby business owner who accused officials of not being transparent enough with the details.

Selectmen Paul York said during a special Board of Selectmen’s meeting Tuesday that discussions up to this point are premature as “we don’t even know what we’re arguing yet, because we don’t even have a design to look at.”

The agenda item asked for the select board’s approval to use $18,500 to pay an engineer for the project, which had been postponed from the previous meeting. Agenda documents reflect that the board was to discuss and decide whether to award $18,5000 to Haley Ward for the Jewett Street Engineering Proposal and expending that amount from the Highway Department Reserve Account, Roads and Sidewalks Resurfacing Designation.

The board ultimately rejected the request 3-1; York was the lone board member in support of moving forward.

Don Kinney, the town’s new road commissioner, did not return an inquiry asking for specific details on the project on Friday. At the meeting Tuesday, he described some details included in the project, like a sidewalk needing improvement, a pole on the south side of Jewett Street that is going to be removed and a light added to Park Street.

 

York said that the project is just another way to improve roadways and intersections in town, and as part of a state-initiated project, the state transportation department will be paying for a portion of the project.

“The board needs to keep in mind that at the Town Meeting, under portions of money that were requested for reserve accounts, this project was in there, and it got approved by the tax payers,” York said. “At Town Meeting, there wasn’t any opposition to any of this, and we have discussed this through the board numerous times, which it has passed all the way up through and now. All of a sudden we’re having an issue to get a design.”

He added that at any given time, selectmen can change the design if they do not like it.

“It’s bigger than, there’s a lot going on there: changing lights, changing sidewalks, improving the whole entire intersection. I don’t know about you, but every time I take the intersection it’s pretty rough.”

Don Skillings, of State Farm Insurance on Madison Avenue, cited a lack of transparency from town officials, including the town manager and former road commissioner, and shared some of his findings when he went looking for documents that he says he had requested previously.

The item was tabled at the June 8 meeting at the request of Selectmen Charles Robbins. At this meeting, York continually assured the board that this agenda item was “nothing more than the design for this project.”

Robbins expressed his concern over the lack of clarity in the project; he said that after discussions with Skillings prior, the concern was that the right-of-way to Skillings’ business would be lost in the project.

“The business owner is clearly concerned about his right-of way and losing his lane,” Robbins said. “I’ve asked what if we can’t avoid taking that parking lot.”

Kinney, the road commissioner, said that to his knowledge, the board is still up to decide on whether to have work done or not after the engineering phase.

Skillings claimed at the meeting that he had found some facts on the project after doing his own research and accused Town Manager Christine Almand of being dishonest in her remarks at previous meetings when she’s informed the board of no new information on the projects.

Skillings said that after being told that there were no drawings or sketches for the intersection work, he later found six drawings that the former road commissioner had allegedly received, dated back to February.

Almand said that this was the first time she had seen the sketches.

This project, Skilling said, would take the right-of-way from his business, even if selectmen say no.

“You have the right to take my right-of-way. I’m not arguing that; I’m asking for leniency,” Skillings said. “The state’s needs supersede that of a landowner in a right-of-way dispute.”

“Essentially,” he continued, “even though you don’t have to answer the hypothetical, there is no remediation for that loss. The parking lot becomes inoperable.”

In a June 3 memo to the board from Greg Dore, the former road commissioner, he suggested awarding the $18,500 bid to Haley Ward. On the purchasing form found in the selectmen agenda, the money would be used for “Engineering services for MPI Jewett Street and Madison Avenue intersection.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Selectmen Harold Bigelow was first to express his thoughts on the item, which he described as “a total waste of money,” and that the $18,500 expense “is just the start.” Citing rising gas prices, plowing and maintaining roadways, the rising costs of asphalt, petroleum and “you can’t get anyone to work,” they should instead look at hunkering down.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fit it,” Bigelow said. “I can’t see spending money or taking a project. I’m totally against it; we’ve got other fish to fry here,”

Kinney, the road commissioner, said that he’s looked over the project and his recommendation is that “we need to have it engineered,” and that the board should “look at the whole picture.”

SPECIAL ELECTION

Also at Tuesday’s board meeting, the group decided to tentatively select Aug. 24 as the date for the special election to fill the vacancy left by a longtime member earlier this month, with more details to be finalized and discussed at the next regular meeting on July 13.

The seat became vacant earlier this month after longtime Selectwoman Betty Austin resigned just before moving to Starks.

A special town meeting will also be held this summer, though details are not yet available. Following the meeting, Almand said that a public hearing followed by a special meeting is needed for the Utility Scale Solar Energy Facility Ordinance, which was approved by selectmen earlier this month.

Under the language of the ordinance, no utility scale solar energy facility is allowed within town without a permit issued by the Planning Board, unless specifically exempted. Facilities of less than 800 square feet are exempted from the ordinance, although they must meet all state electrical codes and permitting requirements.

Applications must include a permit fee, description of the facility, information on the leasing of the land, description of the energy produced and the panels used, a copy of the agreement and details, a construction plan and timeline, a full official land survey and an operation/maintenance plan, an emergency management plan, proof of financial capacity and a visual impact assessment.

Almand said in a phone call that a public hearing date will be set soon to go over the ordinance, then a special town meeting will be scheduled for voters to decide on.

ELECTION RECOUNT

After a recount this week, Bigelow and Todd Smith maintain their elected seats on the Board of Selectmen.

At a special meeting before the regular meeting, Smith was selected chairperson of the board and Robbins was elected vice chair.

Town Clerk Gail Pelotte confirmed the results at Tuesday’s select board meeting; ballots were inspected the previous morning.

“We completed the recount today,” Pelotte said. “The machines are right on. I have loved them since we got them and have always had faith in them, that they have done the job that we need them to do for us. With the recount today, they definitely did what they were supposed to. I feel like our local elections are top notch.”

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.

filed under: