Boothbay, Southport eye possible delayed water start

Tue, 03/24/2020 - 10:30am

    Boothbay is considering seeking opinions from its legal representation and Maine Public Utilities Commission about delaying the April 15 seasonal water start. Southport Selectman Gerry Gamage initiated the proposal due to concerns about seasonal residents arriving in the Boothbay region early to try to escape the growing coronavirus pandemic. Gamage proposed delaying seasonal water by a month in hopes of discouraging visitors from highly infected coronavirus states from seeking refuge in the peninsula. 

    Boothbay Region Water District serves Boothbay, Boothbay Harbor and Southport. All three towns had representation during Boothbay’s emergency selectmen’s meeting Monday in the municipal building’s conference room. Dr. Wendy Wolf, who serves as a Boothbay Harbor selectman, suggested seeking a rolling two-week delay so town officials and the water district could better gauge the pandemic. Four Boothbay selectmen supported Wolf’s suggestion to first seek opinions from their legal counsel and Maine Public Utilities Commission in seeking a delay. Gamage reported Southport’s three-person board supported seeking at least a two-week delay. Boothbay selectmen Mike Tomacelli and Dale Harmon believed the delay was necessary to discourage large numbers of people descending upon the region. They feared more people would increase a vulnerable elderly population to the deadly virus and tax medical and food supply to a population already struggling with both.

    Selectmen Steve Lewis and Kristina Ford hesitated before supporting seeking opinions regarding a possible seasonal water delay. Before the emergency meeting, Lewis supported the proposal due to concerns about how more people arriving in a small rural community would impact first responders. Besides serving as the Boothbay Region Refuse Disposal District’s station manager, Lewis is a Boothbay Region Ambulance Service part-time emergency medical technician and board member. He is concerned how introducing potentially highly contagious people to the peninsula located in the “oldest county in the oldest state’s” population. “Thinking about what two, three or four thousand more people would do the EMS,” he said. “It’s hard enough to care for the residents we already serve. I know this will be an unpopular decision, but it’s one to protect our vulnerable elderly population.”

    Selectman Desiree Scorcia abstained because she didn’t have enough information. “I  feel very strongly if we are making this decision based on capacity then we should know (our hospitals’) capacity. We don’t have that number so it’s like we’re making this thing up with no basis,” she said.  

    Ford believed a delay would send the wrong the message and be received as “un-American.” Ford said the region would regret a delay. “The ramifications would last for a long, long time. We’re all Americans and I believe we’re all in this together I think this may result in us being sued and lead to seasonal residents seeking a different beautiful place to live.” Ford also believed the two-week delay would be useless as there is no known end for the coronavirus. When Wolf proposed a rolling date which would provide leaders more flexibility in assessing the virus’ threat, Ford supported seeking an outside opinion on whether or not the three towns could make the request.

    “This is a much better idea,” said Ford. “I’m still against it for the reasons I stated. It doesn’t make sense to do it for only two weeks, but the rolling two-week interval is a much better way.”

    Southport and Boothbay are waiting for Boothbay Harbor to decide whether or not to seek legal and MPUC opinions on seeking at least a two-week delay. Boothbay Harbor’s selectmen met Monday night, but Wolf indicated the proposal wouldn’t likely be discussed. “I’m here to gather information and I don’t foresee us discussing this tonight because our agenda is full,” she said. Wolf indicated Boothbay Harbor would likely discuss the proposal soon. “I can’t say when, but I don’t think it will take two weeks,” she said. 

    Boothbay Town Manager Dan Bryer will seek information from the municipal lawyer and MPUC and forward information to Boothbay Harbor Town Manager Julia Latter and Gamage.

    This article has been updated from its original posting.