Board discusses master plan
Boothbay Harbor selectmen discussed how the board would approach the Wednesday, May 23 regional master plan workshop with Boothbay's selectmen. Chair Wendy Wolf wanted to get the rest of the board’s take on the report and how to approach Boothbay selectmen on the effort.
The master plan was commissioned by the Joint Economic Development Committee to determine the region’s economic strengths and weaknesses. The firm hired by the JEDC, Camoin Associates, did the research and drafted the final report outlining six key goal areas: business growth and development, housing, downtown and waterfront, tourism, transportation, and regional collaboration.
Wolf said even though members of the JEDC feel as though they've been “slogging along,” she picked up the then latest issue of the Boothbay Register to find many efforts already underway: the Edgecomb municipal ballot asking for $1,000 toward wayfinding; young voters in Boothbay interested in economic development; a story on the JEDC; the Boothbay Harbor Region Chamber of Commerce's work on workforce development; and the Boothbay Lights committee holding a panel discussion on the upcoming season.
"When I looked at this, it made me feel a little bit better that we don't have a huge new architectural firm in town …,” said Wolf. “There are a lot of things percolating that are catching interest and that are really starting to help make people think about economic development. I think that's a testament to the good work of the committee."
Wolf reminded the board why the JEDC was asked to create an economic development plan and discuss how it would be implemented. The Economic Development Agreement, signed and dated May 26, 2015, showed that JEDC recommendations could include the creation of a regional staff position, establishment of a development authority, a joint cost and tax sharing venture, and/or a joint marketing program.
Wolf said an economic development plan drafted in 1997 surfaced after the Camoin findings were finalized. The issues and concerns at the time were not unlike today’s, said Wolf.
"This was frankly discouraging to read this report and then look at what we are talking about and thought, ‘Jeez, not a whole lot has happened in the interim,'" Wolf said. "If we don't want to be in stasis all the time, how are we going to make things change?”
Vice chair Denise Griffin said she feels, to start with, there are recommendations from the master plan that can be worked on immediately with or without the help of the rest of the region, such as wayfinding, cycling and auto routes, and promoting the region as open for business.
However, Griffin’s one concern remains: “There's a lot of mention of work with the Chamber ... and I just want to make sure that if we fund some kind of a role ... that the person doesn't end up really doing work that really should be Chamber work and not higher level JEDC work."
Selectman Mike Tomko said many issues are noted in the Camoin report, some local and some regional. Tomko said it is important to flesh out which ones belong to Boothbay Harbor alone and to take the lead on those while offering a place at the table for the other towns.
"I really want to go into the meeting with Boothbay not saying 'What do you think? I don't know, what do you think,’” Tomko said, adding he would like to see Boothbay Harbor ready to lead on a few issues and make it benefit the region.
Selectman Russ Hoffman said he feels the region should attack one issue at a time. Tomko noted the issue of determining who would lead the efforts. Said Hoffman, "We can figure that out after we figure out which one we want to chase. I don't know. It’s a long list and we can't chase them all."
Selectman Tricia Warren said if she had to pick three issues to start with, she would pick water and sewer, broadband, and wayfinding. Warren explained forming a solid infrastructure would help some of the larger and more ambiguous issues like housing and, subsequently, workforce.
Said Warren, "Wayfinding would be best because we have tourists coming in anyway ... The broadband, I picked, because eventually we want to have it available to us, who are already here, and available to people who might be moving to the area. And you need the water and sewer to be fixed and situated."
Wolf reminded the board again, the JEDC is not composed of planners and specialists, and implementation is not part of the committee’s charter. Towns do not need to fund all of this work, but rather private investors, volunteers, municipalities, the county, the chamber, businesses, and nonprofits must all work together, she said.
"This is sort of an all-hands-on-deck,” said Wolf.
Tomko added, "Let's do something about it. I think we need to be serious about this.”