WISCASSET, Maine — A referendum Tuesday will allow Wiscasset voters to determine whether the town will move forward with a lawsuit against the Maine Department of Transportation.
The town sued to block the demolition of a historic garage and the removal of parking spaces downtown as part of a major MDOT traffic project.
In June 2016, voters approved by a 2-to-1 margin one of several options proposed by the MDOT. But a citizen’s petition in June 2017 prompted a non-binding referendum in which voters rejected changes to that plan.
Selectmen voted 3-2 to sue the MDOT, hoping to save Haggett’s Garage on Water Street.
On Feb. 13, selectmen and the public learned details of a consent agreement negotiated by attorneys for the town and the state. Under the agreement, the MDOT would comply with the town’s historic preservation ordinance and would request a certificate of appropriateness to demolish Haggett’s Garage. If it could not obtain the certificate, the garage would not be demolished and the project would move forward without a parking lot where the garage currently sits.
Selectmen rejected the consent agreement, and on Thursday, the Maine Business and Consumer Court will consider the town’s request for a preliminary injunction against the MDOT and a request that the MDOT receive a certificate of appropriateness before beginning work.
As of March 1, the town had paid law firm Murray, Plumb, & Murray more than $50,000 in legal fees. After some residents expressed concern about the cost of the suit, property owner Ralph H. Doering III offered to pay the town’s expenses, although selectmen voted unanimously in February to direct Town Manager Marian Anderson to consult with an attorney and draw up an article asking voters whether to accept the funds.
Earlier this week, Wiscasset attorney David Soule Jr. said Doering had sent him a $75,000 check, which he deposited in an escrow account and which is available to the town if it goes forward with the suit.
“I want to make it clear that this offer is made not to convince anyone how they should vote, but is made so that any decisions made by the town and the voters are not based upon concerns about costs and any related impact causing an increase in taxes, but are based solely upon the issues related to the proposed project for the downtown,” Soule said in a letter to the selectmen.
The escrow agreement includes conditions for the disbursement of funds.
A group of residents who say the lawsuit will result in permanent damage to the town have also retained legal counsel to file a motion to intervene as defendants in support of the MDOT project.
The polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Wiscasset Community Center.
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