At the October 3 restricted board meeting at Emerson Hall, several members of the public expressed dismay that a draft of a long-awaited report was not made public when it was received.
In 2020, the city engaged Port City Architecture to consult on planning for a new fire station in town. The second phase of this project involved evaluating three potential sites.
The report on these sites has been awaited for months. A draft was received by the city manager and the management of the fire department on September 12.
During the public comment portion of the Oct. 3 meeting, resident Josh Adam asked City Manager Shawn Blodgett about news that a draft copy had been received but not made public.
“Why wasn’t it in the CEO’s report [of the September 19 select board meeting]?” asked Adam.
The CEO’s report is a regular item on the agenda of each Board meeting. In this document, the city manager informs the council of issues, events and communications affecting the city.
Board member Peter Vogell responded candidly to Adam. “We try to do the best for the city. [We’re] not try to deceive anyone,” he said.
He also said that it didn’t even make sense to answer questions about the draft report yet because it was just a draft. There will be a public debate on the report when it is finalized, he said.
Adam also said he found it “shocking” that the firefighters were editing the report “probably to make it more to their liking”, referring to Blodgett’s comments at the September 19 board meeting.
At that time, in an extended discussion primarily with resident Gus Basile, Blodgett said the city had received the draft and was reading it to provide feedback to Port City. Adam characterized this exchange by saying that Blodgett “let slip” that the project had been received.
Adam is one of many Castine residents and activists who have opposed the location of a potential new fire station on Battle Avenue in the village for more than a year.
Blodgett responded forcefully. “Editing isn’t what’s going on here.” He also made it clear that he disputed Adam’s insinuation that something untoward was going on.
Blodgett explained that he himself provided comments on the report to Port City. They include the request for more detail on topics such as environmental analysis and neighborhood densities. He provided the Patriot with a copy of an email he sent to Port City asking these and other questions.
When asked if the fire department had provided comments in Port City, Blodgett said he didn’t know.
He also provided the Patriot with a copy of the draft report and offered one to anyone present.
“The problem is that the draft report is public property…and it wasn’t in the CEO’s report,” Adam insisted. “At no time was it specified that it would be a collaboration” between the fire brigade or the city and Port City, he said, questioning more than once the independence of the report.
Adam went on to say that some people were upset to learn of a Freedom of Information Act request filed by some residents’ legal representatives regarding this issue earlier this year. This draft report incident, according to Adam, indicates why such a request was necessary.
Everything that was asked through it FOIA request was provided quickly, according to Blodgett. All of the information provided was also publicly available from the start, Blodgett said months ago, speaking about the request.
Vogell defended the city. Everyone will have the opportunity to speak on this issue in public hearings, he said. “We are not trying to hide anything. We try to do the best we can. We try to [act] for everyone’s benefit,” he said.
Board member Gordon MacArthur said the draft reports are normal. Not only is it wise for the general manager to review a draft, “it’s his duty,” MacArthur said.
Resident Liz Parish said: ‘I’m not questioning’ that the council is doing its best, but ‘I think we need to be more open’.
The Battle Avenue site was one of three the report assesses. It is also a plot of land that the municipality bought in the summer of 2021.
Adam lives next to this plot, although he says his opposition is not NIMBYism (not in my backyard). Rather, he opposes locating a fire station near the city’s sensitive water supply, he said in conversation after the meeting. The other two sites include one near the town transfer station off the neck and the current location of the fire station on Court Street.
Recycling Update, SPFA test
In other news, Blodgett reported the city office will be closed Wednesday and Thursday so staff can attend business meetings.
He also signaled that the new recycling rules will remain in the city for at least another eight months, the time before a recycling facility opens in Hampden. This plant was recently purchased by the Municipal Review Board, a statewide consortium of cities concerned with solid waste and recycling issues.
Blodgett reported that many recycling bags are still going to the landfill because residents are not obeying the rules of the current and relatively recently hired supplier, Pine Tree Waste.
The rules require that all containers be empty, clean and dry. No items under two inches are accepted. Although plastic bags aren’t recyclable, Blodgett says residents should continue to put their recycling in clear plastic bags for curbside pickup. Transfer station staff will handle plastic bags, Blodgett said.
Blodgett said the city dock floats will be removed Oct. 19. Three of them are to be refurbished over the winter, he said.
The Perkins Street-Pleasant Street paving project has seen more delays, but Blodgett said he expects the final layer of asphalt to arrive soon.
Castine is one of many towns in the state participating in a SPFA test program designed to obtain data, Blodgett said.
SPFA are polyfluoroalkyl substances. Chemical contaminants are linked to adverse human health effects, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website. They are known as “eternal chemicals” because they resist breaking down in the environment. There are thousands of them and they come from many sources, the site says.
Castine’s dewatered sewage sludge has been tested for SPFA concentration and found to be high in chemicals. Olver Associates employees have been trained to perform the tests, which is not trivial.
Since chemicals can be harmful at very low concentrations, the testing protocol is very prescribed and exacting, right down to the shampoo and soap the technician can use before performing the test.
Blodgett told the board he will authorize the $3,000 to $5,000 it will cost to conduct the tests.
American Tower offered $15,000 to renew the lease for the land at the transfer station used for a cell phone tower. The term is 35 years. Currently, the city receives about $1,600 per month from the lease, according to city finance officer Karen Motycka.
The next restricted board meeting will be Monday, October 17 at 4 p.m. at Emerson Hall.