News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, April 5, 2018
Internet study, food trucks drive meeting

by Rich Hewitt

The town has received a $15,000 grant from the Island Institute to help investigate improving high-speed internet service.

According to Town Manager Kathleen Billings, the grant will be combined with $10,000 raised at the annual town meeting last month in order to fund a request for information for high-speed internet and broadband service.

“This gives us something to work with,” she said. “We need to know what it will cost to bring high speed internet to Stonington.”

Billings and Selectman Travis Fifield recently attended a conference on broadband and high-speed internet where, Fifield said, they learned what other communities are doing. He said they learned a lot about processes to develop and seek funding to build a local network, adding that the grant will help to better identify what the town needs.

“We’re going to get a lot of good information and ideas,” he said. “Someone has got to look at the island and see what can be done, see what they think about it.”

Going forward, Billings added, the town needs to work with someone who knows how to develop systems for rural communities. There are a lot of different ways to go, she said, including setting up the town’s own municipal utility to operate the network.

Railing gate at Hagen Dock

Selectmen agreed to install a gate in the railing around the perimeter of Hagen Dock in order to provide safer access for fishermen using the metal ladder at the dock. John Robbins proposed the idea after watching a fisherman try to climb up the ladder and over the fence carrying a metal propeller. He said he was concerned that someone might fall trying to get over the railing.

“It’s for safety reasons,” he said. “And it will solve a lot of problems for fishermen.”

The gate will have to be locked.

Evelyn Duncan pointed out that the improvements to the dock had been done with federal funding which required that the railing at the edge of the walkway be installed.

“We can’t have something that is just open,” she said. “It’s got to be locked.”

Selectmen agreed that the town needed a system to monitor the gate and to hold users accountable for making sure it is locked at all times. They stipulated that anyone wishing to use the gate will have to get the key from the harbormaster.

“They’ll have to sign it in and sign it out,” said Donna Brewer.

Robbins noted that there are two support poles in the railing were the opening could be cut and the gate installed, so that it won’t be a major project to complete.

Colwell Ramp

The town has completed work on the Colwell Ramp. Utilizing grant funds along with town funds and funds from Isle au Haut, the town used concrete planks to extend the ramp about nine feet into the water and also added planks on either side to widen the ramp. At about 55 feet, the ramp is now about six feet longer than it was and about six feet wider. Duncan said there is some work to be done including painting lines on the ramp and filling spots on the approach with hot top.

“This should make it easier and safer to use,” she said.

Asbestos Removal

Selectmen voted to spend up to $15,000 to remove asbestos tiles from the floor at the former school building. The asbestos was discovered when crews began to remove the existing carpeting as part of a project to install a new floor on the main floor of the building. According to Billings, the problem stemmed from the fact that the carpeting had been glued to the tiles, and, when crews tried to remove the carpet, the tiles came up in pieces with the carpet.

The removal of the tiles requires a special process and, in order to contain the asbestos particles during removal, the building will have to be closed for several days. Billings said she will work with the tenants who rent space in the building, and the contractor has agreed to work over a weekend in an effort to limit the time those tenants will be out of their spaces.

Food trucks

After some discussion, selectmen decided to reactivate the downtown parking committee to investigate the viability of authorizing food trucks to operate in town. The issue has come up at meetings in the past, and Billings said that she regularly receives requests about operating food vendor trucks in town. Although those types of trucks can operate on private property, much of the discussion focused on the use of town property, particularly Hagen Dock and Main Street.

While several selectmen indicated support for the idea, the question of where to put them kept coming up. Last year, the town adopted changes to its parking ordinances implementing recommendations from the ad hoc committee in an effort to ease parking issues during the summer. While there are other issues that will come up, including objections from brick and mortar businesses, selectmen seemed reluctant to turn lose parking spots either on Main Street or the dock.

Selectman Evelyn Duncan noted that the parking plan had been worked out carefully, adding that if “we are giving spaces away for free, we’re going to hear from other people in town.” Robbins argued that the spaces wouldn’t be free, and Billings noted that other towns do charge the vendors for the right to set up in public parking spaces. She referred to a copy of the Blue Hill ordinance, which addresses issues such as fees, permits and licenses. John Steed said that while Main Street might not be an ideal spot for food trucks, West Main might offer some areas for them and might attract foot traffic to businesses in that area.

Fifield supported the idea of sending the issue to the reconstituted parking committee, which included downtown business people.

“It’s good to get public involved from the get-go,” he said. “That will make people happier in the long run, especially with all the time spent on parking issues.”