Boothbay Harbor selectmen held off choosing to join Southport and Boothbay March 23 in pursuing a delay in the seasonal water turn-on date. The Boothbay Harbor board deferred a decision until a special meeting March 30. The issue was brought forth earlier in the day in an emergency meeting of the Boothbay selectmen in which Southport Select Board Chair Gerry Gamage proposed delaying the May 1 turn-on for two weeks to discourage seasonal residents from arriving early, amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Boothbay Harbor Selectman Wendy Wolf explained that because Boothbay Region Water Disrict works under the auspices of the Public Utilities Commission, the district cannot reschedule. Boothbay, Boothbay Harbor and Southport would need to all request the PUC let them change start dates. According to Dale Harmon, Boothbay selectman and BRWD employee, the district would need two weeks’ notice before the scheduled start date to prepare for it.
Wolf said despite the reasoning for a possible delay, people at the earlier meeting admitted a change may be arbitrary for mitigating arrival of COVID-19 on the peninsula since no one knows how much better or worse the pandemic might get.
“To be honest, the concerns about pushing the water back really centered on trying to ensure that those people who are here in our Boothbay region have the greatest degree of public safety and that really was the motivation for this conversation to make sure that we are doing everything we can to promote safety and prevent an influx of individuals that might come from areas where COVID is much more prevalent and also put a strain on vital services.”
Board chair Mike Tomko felt a decision would be impossible without thought and research into the options, but he said all who have made plans to come to the region would deserve as much notice as possible. The board decided the town should seek feedback from the PUC, Maine Centers for Disease Control and Maine Public Health before making any decisions.
Selectman Ken Fitch said the towns should be wary of delaying the start date since many seasonal users are from the region.
“Not that COVID is not a serious issue. It is … but we have to be judicious in the way we move through this crisis and make sure whatever moves we make are sound, are appropriate and we don't create unnecessary damage to the town. That to me is important … We're not talking about vacationers … we're talking about seasonal owners. Property owners. Taxpayers. That's a very, very different group. If we're really going to tackle this, we have to tackle the bigger picture as well. What about the people who do travel here from away all summer long? How are we going to control that? We are a vacation town … I can see the argument for doing it, but I can also see the argument for not doing it and I think we as a board need to really, thoroughly vet it before we make any decision.”
The board will meet next via Zoom to decide how to address seasonal water at 7 p.m. March 30.
Virtual now a reality, ordinances move forward
The March 23 meeting was the board’s first ever virtual meeting. Town Manager Julia Latter supervised the connection to the community through Zoom, a company specializing in video conference calls and interactive chats.
The virtual meeting was to encourage and accommodate residents practicing social distancing during the pandemic. Eight people were in the town office meeting room: Boothbay Region TV's Jonne Trees, Code Enforcement Officer Geoff Smith, Latter, Tomko, Wolf, Fitch, vice chair Tricia Warren and Selectman Denise Griffin. The town office was closed to foot traffic starting March 19.
A public hearing was held on five articles amending town ordinances: language changes clarifying subdivision rules; limitations for mobile food vendors; an increase in maximum expenditures – $5,000 to $10,000 – before requiring sealed bids; amendments to port regulation definitions "mooring" and "float"; and a new chapter on blasting dealing with public and neighborhood notification and minimum insurance requirements of $1 million.
Via audio, resident Martha Cowdery asked how the planning board and selectmen settled on the $1 million blasting insurance requirement. Tomko said the state requires a minimum of $500,000, ordinances from many other towns in Maine use $1 million and the town attorney agreed the amount is best practice.
Selectmen approved the five articles to go to voters May 2.