2017-04-28 / Community

In the Know

CRASH CORNER — A high crash intersection in South Portland is under review by the state, although the city has not yet set aside funds for any remediation effort.

At a March 6 city council meeting, Brick Hill Avenue resident Adrian Dowling, who is on the city planning board, asked about the intersection of Broadway and Sokokis Street, adjacent to the Interstate 295 onramp near Westbrook Street. Dowling was promised an answer from then-interim city manager Don Gerrish, but never got a reply. So, at the April 19 council meeting, with new manager Scott Morelli firmly in place, Dowling tried again.

“I’ve witnessed the aftermath of a lot of motor vehicle accidents in that area, with light assemblies, and hubcaps, and bumpers and things strew about the road,” he said, asking what plans, if any, the city has to improve the intersection for safety.

Two days later, Morelli provided an answer via email, confirming that the status of the site as a high-crash location is not merely anecdotal. According to data compiled by Police Chief Ed Googins, he said, the Broaway/Sokokis intersection has seen 17 car accidents in the past four years, including two in 2014, seven in 2015, six in 2016, and two so far this year.

“I am not aware of any improvements slated for that area by the city,” Morelli wrote. “However, (Maine Department of Transportation) does have it on its list of high-crash locations and both the police chief and planning director have reached out to MDOT recently to ask them to review this intersection.”

FIREFIGHTER PAY—A recent letter to the editor in The Sentry, which contended South Portland firefighters would get better pay if Portland Pipe Line Corp was performing better economically and not locked in a legal battle with the city, prompted a query from Brick Hill Avenue resident Adrian Dowling, who asked at the March 6 city council meeting exactly how much South Portland firefighters are paid in comparison to surrounding communities.

At the April 19 council meeting, Dowling said then-city manager Don Gerrish “tried to answer the question as best he could,” and did provide some numbers via email. “But it didn’t entirely answer the question,” Dowling said, repeating his question for new City Manager Scott Morelli.

“Our firefighter’s pay is not in any way tied to the economic success or failure of an industry,” Morelli wrote in an April 21 reply to Dowling’s question. “While the overall health of South Portland’s economy can impact the tax revenue we receive and thus make it easier financially to provide cost of living pay increases during times when we are bargaining for wages and benefits with all of our unions – including firefighters – I do not see how the pipeline’s economic fortunes are in any way directly linked to the pay of our fire/EMS personnel.”

Morelli said comparing firefighter pay between municipalities can be “a bit of an apples and oranges game,” because of the difference in contracted step increases and stipends for things like college credits and degrees earned, state licensing levels, as well as variations in what different health insurance plans cover, and other benefits, “which in many cases can be more valuable than a high base wage.”

However, Morelli said during union contract negotiations in 2014, city hall did make the best comparison it could between South Portland firefighters and their peers across the river in Portland, in terms of base pay. The comparison showed that South Portland firefighters make more early in their careers, but that Portland wins the wage race in later years.

As of that 2014 comparison, a starting firefighter could expect to make between $13.92 and $15.48 per hour in Portland, but anywhere from $16.68 to $17.72 in South Portland. Portland firefighters get contracted raises at six months, one-year, and three-year milestones, by which time they earn between $18.44 and $20.08 per hour. In South Portland, raises come at the one and two year marks, by which time firefighters are earning from $20.08 to $21.12 per hour.

South Portland firefighters do not get automatic step increase raises again until their 10th year with the department, at which time they can earn between $20.49 and $21.71 per hour. Portland firefighters get raises at the three-, five-, and eightyear marks, by which time they have pulled ahead of their South Portland peers, making between $20.61 and $22.29 per hour.

Portland firefighters are not due automatic raises at 10 years, but do get increases at 15 years, when the can be making as much as $22.73 per hour, and 20 years, when hourly pay tops out at $23.37. In South Portland, the top pay at the 15- and 20-year marks can reach a high of $21.97 and $22.56 per hour, respectively.

JET NOISE — Also at the April 19 South Portland City Council meeting, planning board member Ardian Dowling, who is also on the city’s jet noise advisory committee, said that group has recently experienced an uptick in complaints. He later noted in an interview that the new complaints are coming primarily from the Knightville and Loveitt’s Field neighborhoods.

Downing said residents have complained at each of the last two committee meetings, saying that noise from jets appeared to be getting worse, and that new mitigation procedures adopted in the last few years, such as a rule that lets pilots follow the Fore River to the Portland International Jetport in good weather, rather than flying directly over the city, “were not always being followed.”

“For the benefit of the public, I wanted them to know that if they are being bothered by noise from aircraft that the feel is excessive, to please not just suffer in silence,” Dowling said. “There is a way for you to express your concern to the airport.”

Dowling said anyone who wants to file a complaint can do so online at www.portlandjetport.org/noise.

“There’s a very easy form you can fill out,” Dowling said. “That is very helpful to the noise abatement committee because it allows us to see patterns and trends. So, please don’t just sit at home and have heartburn and shake your fist at the sky, let is know.”

APPOINTMENTS — District 2 resident Michele Danois has won appointment to South Portland’s Energy and Recycling Committee. A retired physical education teacher of 40 years, Danois is well-known as a popular school crossing guard in Willard Square. She also was the 2015 winner of The Sentry’s annual “Great Person” contest, and voted on by readers of the paper.

“I believe she will be a real cheerleader and a real boost for this committee, and a real compliment to some of the skill sets that are already present (there),” said Councilor Eben Rose, who made the nomination.

The city council has also reappointed Elderberry Drive resident Kevin Carr to the planning board through April 1, 2020. Carr, who was first appointed to the planning board in June 2015 to fill an unexpired term, is board chairman. Since 1993, he had been director of procurement services for the University of Maine system.

And, after being tapped in December to fill out the final three months of a vacant seat on the South Portland Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, Peter Howe has been granted a full five-year term in his own right, to March 25, 2022. Howe knows the job. A resident of Sawyer Street, Howe, now retired, served as the authority’s executive director for 32 hears. His resume also includes eight years as a commissioner on the Maine State Housing Authority and three years as Portland’s deputy city manager.

South Portland is currently seeking residents willing to fill two seats on the board of assessment review and one on the zoning board of appeals. The two assessment positions are until 2019 – one expiring in March of that year, the other in December. One of the seats just opened up in January, but the other has been vacant since March 2016. The appeals board slot just opened up due to a resignation. The appointed applicant would serve until July 2019.

SOLAR FIX — The South Portland City Council has fixed a contradiction in the new solar ordinance it adopted Feb. 22 in an effort to encourage more use of rooftop solar panels to power city buildings. The original language had a blanket exemption for the panels in calculating building height, treating them much like aerial antennas and rooftop HVAC systems. However, performance standards elsewhere in the new code included the panels in building height limits for residential zones. According to City Planner Tex Haeuser, that provision was added to prevent panels that may extend above the roofline from suddenly cutting off viewscapes from neighboring homes.

The new rules, unanimously recommended by the planning board April 4 and adopted by the city council April 19, state specifically that roof-mounted solar energy systems will count toward maximum allowed building height in the city’s residential zones, but not in mix-use and commercial zones.

“The wording here is much clearer,” said Councilor Eben Rose, who first pointed out the contradiction within the ordinance.

“Obviously, we want to get the wording right on all of our ordinances, but this one looks to the future, so we really want to get it right,” Councilor Claude Morgan said.

“Anything we as citizens can do to reduce the need for oil products is a step ahead,” Councilor Maxine Beecher said. “But I had heard from a lot of people that the solar apparatus might not be appealing to them if it was next door. So, this sort of takes care of that.”

NEW FOOD — At its April 19 meeting the South Portland City Council voted unanimously to grant a $1,470 food and liquor license to North 43, a new restaurant scheduled to open in late May or early June at 1 Spring Point Drive, on the site of the former Joe’s Boathouse. The new building was put up by the owners of the Port Harbor Marine, which run the Spring Point Marina, to replace the home of Joe’s, which closed in 2015 after 23 years.

The new restaurant, a two-story structure with seating inside for 100 and outdoor decks for another 50, is named for the marina’s spot on the global latitude lines. It is partly owned by Yarmouth resident Laura Argitis, owner of the Old Port Sea Grill. The other 50 percent owner in the company that will run the restaurant, LASB Inc., is Stephanie Brown, also of Yarmouth. Brown previously owned the Sea Grass Bistro in Yarmouth and most recently worked as executive chef at the Woodlands Club in Falmouth.

According to the license, North 43 will be open from 11:30 a.m. until 10 p.m., seven days per week.

“I’m very excited for this business to begin,” Mayor Patti Smith said. “I think the building is appropriate for the site, it was wonderful water views, and it also helps to bring workforce to our city. There are quite a few people who are going to be working within that venue.”

On April 19, the council also granted a $720 food license to South Portland Urban Air, at 333 Clarks Pond Drive, allowing it to serve beer and wine. An 31,000-squarefoot indoor trampoline park located in the former Marshalls department store building owned by Joseph Soley, Urban Air opened in November. It is owned and operated by Anthony Dill of Scarborough, with investment from Robert Ecker of Cape Elizabeth, Stephen Freese of Scarborough, and Steven Chicoine of Portland. It currently serves pub food from Sysco and Portland Pie Co. in its 200 seat café area and function rooms. The new license allows the addition of beer and wine to the menu.

DONATIONS — At its April 19 meeting, South Portland City Councilors accepted $1,775 in donations to city coffers. Saco & Biddeford Savings gave $1,000 to help stage the annual Art in the Park event in Mill Creek Park, and $500 to buy T-shirts for campers who attend this summer’s Junior Police Academy program. The Maine Veterinary Center also gave $175 to help stage Art in the Park.

An additional $100 was given by Windham resident Jeffrey Dunlop, to be added to the city’s Clear Skies Defense Fund. On March 20, members of the advocacy group Protect South Portland presented the check for $10,000 raised via web-based crowd-funding site fundrazr.com, in amounts that reportedly ranged from $5 to $500. With that large donation and Dunlop’s gift, private donations to the defense fund tally $135,452, according to city Finance Director Greg L’Heureux.

Protect South Portland was at the forefront of a drive to ban diluted bitumen, or “tar sands” oil from passing though South Portland, petitioning for an ordinance to that effect on the November 2013 ballot. After voters rejected that proposal by fewer than 200 votes, the city council went back to the drawing board and adopted a version of its own in July 2014. In February 2015, Portland Pipe Line Corp filed suit, calling the ordinance an unconstitutional infringement interstate and international commerce. The city hired Boston law firm Foley Hoag to defend its position, running up a legal bill that, as of the most recent tally in December, had run to more than $1.08 million though Mach 31.

According to an April 24 email from L’Heureux, the city council has appropriated $1.51 million toward the legal fight to date, leaving $432,898 in the kitty before it needs to raise additional funds.

– Compiled by Staff Writer Wm. Duke Harrington

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