NEW GLOUCESTER — Selectmen voted unanimously Monday not to place two citizen-initiated petitions on the June 3 annual town meeting warrant.

The petitions seek to repeal voter approvals of the Town of New Gloucester Upper Village Water Service Ordinance and terminate the Interlocal Agreement between the town and the New Gloucester Water District.

On Feb. 16, voters, by a show of hands, passed the documents that paved the way to develop the Upper Gloucester public water system so 20 households with wells contaminated from benzene, the gasoline additive MBTE and salt could have clean drinking water.

The board read aloud the entire eight-page memo from town attorney Pat Scully of Portland-based Bernstein Shur, covering the town’s obligations to respond to petitions related to the New Gloucester Public Water system.

A copy of the memo will be posted on the town’s website and can be picked up at the Town Office during regular business hours.

After reading the memo, the board took public comment from residents on both sides of the issue. After 90 minutes of testimony and board discussion, the board unanimously voted not to put the petitions before voters.

New Gloucester Water District Trustee Lawrence Zuckerman read a statement reflecting his views as a resident during the public comment period.

“We are contractually committed as a town to numerous agreements, including funders agreements, vendors services agreements, to the residents of the Water District for delivery of potable water and financing agreements, all based on the February vote and decision,” he said.

These contracts total about $2.4 million.

“If the town breaches its obligations by a repeal, which these petitions seek, just consider the lawsuits that would follow. Not only would there be obligations for exorbitant legal fees and costs, but the repayments required to funders and the damages that would be awarded would all have to be paid by the town — that is, by us — potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars. This would result in significant increases in taxes for each household,” Zuckerman said.

“I believe this would easily run between $40,000 to $50,000 in legal fees for each side, if the issue goes “all the way,” which I interpret to mean the Maine Supreme Judicial Court,” he said. “These costs have enormous potential impact on the town and the risk of increases to all in taxes, far, far greater than $18 per year.”

Jerry Witham spoke about the petition effort. “For us, it’s been the vote and process,” he said. It was held on a Saturday before a holiday week by a show of hands and not counted, and some nonregistered voters participated, he pointed out.

“Nobody liked the word ‘repeal,'” he said.

Debbie May, of the petition effort, said, “I am ashamed and embarrassed at how people are reacting to this. Whoever is being rude or inconsiderate must stop. I feel everyone needs to grow up. People don’t feel like they got a fair opportunity to vote. That’s been my thing — for a fair vote.”

Resident Dennis McCann said he has collected more than 425 signatures in support of the water project. “I’m not going to stop until Dianna (Jordan) gets her water. These people had their chance to vote, and we did what was right — we went, we listened to the moderator and we voted.”

Resident Beverly Cadigan said the board has listened and taken steps to improve the process for future town meetings that include voter checklists and considering no Saturday meetings, if possible.

“The town is listening,” she said. “I hope the petitioners can withdraw or understand. I’d like to see the petitioners work with the town. Let’s talk about your real concerns.” 

Attorney Scully summarized in the memo the facts and history related to the New Gloucester Water System and the petitions submitted on April 18 and 19 to the board, requesting that articles to repeal and terminate the ordinance and agreements for the water system be placed on the town meeting warrant for a vote.

A bid process began Feb. 19 when the water district awarded a final engineering and construction observation contract to Wright-Pierce for $193,100.

On March 14, the district and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection executed a final agreement in which DEP committed to fund 20.8 percent of eligible expenses, estimated at $353,000, Scully’s memo said.

On March 21, Scully noted that the town closed on interim project financing of $1,179,827 with Androscoggin Bank, and the district entered into a $33,500 contract with Drumlin Environmental for additional hydrogeology and permitting related to the proposed well.

On April 23, Scully wrote that the engineering work by Wright-Pierce was 95 percent complete. In late April, the town drew on $43,080 from Cumberland County Development Block Grant funds to pay Wright-Pierce, in part for the work performed to date.

On May 9, the district and Drumlin Environmental amended their contract to include a well drilling subcontract at a cost of $39,500.

The $2.3 million construction project went out to bid on May 9.

Thirteen obligations occurred between the town and/or the New Gloucester Water District in reliance on the voters’ approval of the district’s creation, the adoption of the ordinance and the interlocal agreement between the town and the water district.

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