NEW GLOUCESTER — The $2.4 million public water system approved by voters in February for Upper Gloucester now has two valid petitions seeking to repeal voters’ approvals.

Selectmen will hold a special board meeting at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday at the Community Building, joined by the New Gloucester Water District trustees and attorneys representing the joint board. The board is expected to enter into an executive session to discuss the legal rights and duties of the municipality with its attorneys.

During the audience participation segment of Monday’s selectmen’s meeting, members of the public questioned the status of the three petitions turned in to the town last week.

The petitions ask the board to place articles before voters at a town meeting to repeal the town’s Upper Village Water Service Ordinance and terminate an interlocal agreement between the town of New Gloucester and the New Gloucester Water District. Both of the verified petitions garnered more than the required 260 signatures.

A third petition fell short by 12 signatures and therefore failed. It asked for the town to spend up to $200,000 to supply any properties with contaminated wells in the water district a safe private water supply by drilling new cased wells and/or purchasing water easements to eliminate the need for a public water system.

The public water system would serve 50 households and business establishments that have wells contaminated with chemicals since the 1980s.

Resident Laura Sturgis told the board, “Since the water district issue came up, I see the town that I love becoming divided. I find it difficult to believe that people of good will desire to visit financial hardship on families affected by this issue. When I go into a public place here in town, I look at people and wonder ‘Are you part of the group that dislikes your selectmen so much that you are willing to make my property worthless?’ It feels scary to me, like there is someone nearby who wishes me bad things.

“I awaken in the night with a feeling of fear in the pit of my stomach — that the benzene over which I have no control will not be turned off, and there is no hope of good water flowing to my building,” she said.

Debbie May said, “I want to clarify again. The reason for the petition is not to repeal the water district, but to give all citizens a fair vote. Citizens feel they didn’t have a reasonable right to vote. We want the political process to be fair. We are not repealing the water district.”

Jerry Witham said he publicly objected to the board holding an executive session with the town attorney on the petitions planned on Wednesday. “The public has a right to know,” he said, noting the Freedom of Information Access Law.

Board Chairman Steve Libby said the board must first talk with the town attorney. “We have to hear from the town attorney about what we are required to do,” he said.

Resident Dennis McCann learned that he could also run a petition drive to uphold the February vote approval.

“I am totally against this repeal. These people are trying to shut this down. I don’t think it’s fair to the people who came out to vote, went to workshops and put their Saturday plans on hold and listened to the moderator,” he said.

“It’s not fair to people who did it right,” McCann said. “To go out and get 300 signatures on a piece of paper is not fair to the people who came out when most of those who signed didn’t attend the meetings. How can that be fair for the people who came out to vote? The pollution is spreading. I don’t think you can kill the project because you oppose the process.” 

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