2017-03-03 / Community

In the Know

A compendium of notes, quotes and news bytes relevant to residents of South Portland and Cape Elizabeth, compiled by staff writer Wm. Duke Harrington.

SCHOOL VOTE — The South Portland City Council appointed Matthew Perkins to the vacant District 4 seat on the board of education, choosing to vote on the issue at its Feb. 22 meeting by secret ballots.

Although City Attorney Sally Daggett was present and offered no advice to the contrary, the decision to conceal their votes has since drawn sharp from open government advocates. Mal Leary, senior political correspondent for Maine Public Broadcasting, who is president of the National Freedom of Information Coalition and vice president of its Maine-based peer group, publically called the vote “illegal,” deeming it a violation of Maine’s Freedom of Access Act.

For their part, councilors justified the action by saying the most recent similar appointment by the council, back in October was both “difficult” for them, and potentially embarrassing to applicants, when one drew no council nomination. The city charter gives the council the power to fill school board vacancies and the secret ballot, councilors said, while holding high the standard of transparency, both mirrors the vote that would normally happen at the ballot box, while eliminating the parliamentary need for seconding nominations at a council meeting.

Perkins, 40, an Elderberry Drive resident who is traffic director at Strategic Media, replaces Libby Reynolds, to whom he lost the 2015 election. Reynolds resigned citing time conflicts with her job as a banking manager. Perkins will serve until November when a special election will be staged to fill the final year of Reynolds’ unexpired term.

Four candidates filed applications to step in for Reynolds, including Perkins, James Doane, Burton Edwards and Todd Goodwin. City councilors interviewed Perkins and Doane at a special workshop session prior to the Feb. 22 meeting. In the tally read aloud by Town Clerk Emily Scully, Perkins drew five votes, while Doane got two.

NEW BUSINESS — In addition to 38 license renewals of various types, South Portland issued four new business permits during January. Chicago Dogs, located at 671 Main St., got a special amusement (without dancing) permit; Verbena, at 103 Ocean St. is now licensed for food service catering; Mainely Wraps, which moved out of its Old Port location last fall recently got an on-site food preparation license on the South Portland side of the Fore River and reopened at 1422 Broadway; and We Compost It! of Scarborough now has a license to expand its waste removal operations into South Portland, where it will pick up organic materials for composting.

CONSERVATION COMPOSITION — At its Feb. 22 meeting the South Portland City Council reappointed Rick Foss-Lacey to the conservation committee and voted to reduce the size of that group from 14 members to seven.

In January 2015, the commission asked that it be increased to 14 members. However, according to commission member Bob McKeagney, he’s the only person who remains from that time.

The city council never managed to fill all 14 seats and, in September, the commission experienced what Chairman Megan Sheehan has termed “a mass exodus.” It is now down to seven active members and Sheehan said those who remain preferred to stand pat and not have the council fill the vacant seats.

SOLAR SUNRISE — In a pair of Feb. 22 votes lauded by environmental activists, the South Portland City Council enabled the construction of more residential solar panels, while agreeing to build a few of its own.

The council voted unanimously to enact a series of zoning amendments that will allow for greater use of roof-mounted solar panels throughout the city. However, Councilor Eben Rose spotted a discrepancy in the new rules that seemed to indicate solar panels both do or do not count toward overall building height. An amendment to clarify that issue will be voted on at the next council meeting.

The council also voted unanimously to have interim City Manager Don Gerrish sign a contract with ReVision Energy to build an array of 2,992 solar panels on the former city landfill off Highland Avenue, capable of generating 1.2 million kilowatt hours of energy per year.

That’s reportedly enough to cover 12 percent of the annual electricity needs in all city and school department buildings. As part of the deal, South Portland will buy power from ReVision for six years at rates higher than it pays now, costing it an extra $31,000 per year. It would then have the option to buy the panels outright for $1.6 million. According to Gerrish, the panels would then save the city about $3 million in energy costs over their 40-year lifespan. However, a third party study, requested by Jon Jennings, the city manager of Portland, which has a parallel solar deal in the works with ReVision, found that, in a worst-case scenario, South Portland could actually end up paying more than $443,000 in added cost over 25 years.

SOUTHBOUND AND DOWN — The South Portland City Council voted unanimously Feb. 22 to spend $35,000 as South Portland’s share of a $330,000 engineering study, to design a $2.4 million overhaul of the Exit 4 area of Interstate 295 that will create southbound access from Main Street, near Lincoln Street. As envisioned in a report prepared last year by the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System, the idea is to eliminate one of the twin on-ramp bridges onto I-295 North from Main Street and instead extend the one-way off-ramp as a two way road to a new, signaled intersection to the bypass that leads from Veterans Memorial Bridge to 295, creating a new southbound access point from Main Street.

ODDS AND ENDS — In other business at its Feb. 22 meeting, the South Portland City Council:

 Accepted $2,150 in donations to the Clear Skies Ordinance Defense Fund, which supports a legal battle that has cost South Portland more than $1 million to date. It also accepted a $100 donation to the parks and recreation department from the community garden collective.

 Made a host of changes to the personnel policy for non-union employees, that, among other things, clarifies rules surrounding use of marijuana, tobacco and service animals, and the acceptance of gifts, as well as onand off-duty conduct and procedures for taking a leave of absence.

 Accepted a $12,902 grant from the Bureau of Highway Safety to help the police department pay for added speed enforcement details.

 Accepted $3,650 in forfeited funds awarded to the police department by the courts as a result of criminal convictions.

 Agreed to have interim City Manager Don Gerrish sign a covenant with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection regarding the cleanup of leadcontaminated soil discovered during an upgrade project at the water treatment plant on Waterman Avenue. The deal allows the city to treat the soil and contain it on site, rather than have it hauled away.

 Agreed to have Gerrish sign an update, described as largely procedural, to a 1978 agreement under which city sewer billing, collection and customer service is handled by the Portland Water District.

 Accepted a release deed for a Portland Water District easement on land at 39 Hall Street. The city still uses the property for its own water and sewer lines and Councilor Sue Henderson suggested turning the vacant lot into a public park.

 And, after a lengthy debate on soliciting bids to produce a feasibility study and engineering plan to overhaul the Portland Street Pier to encourage growth of the local aquaculture industry – and setting aside $75,000 to pay for the reports – the council decided instead to recommit the entire concept to a new workshop session in March.

Return to top