News Feature

Stonington
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, June 7, 2018
Atlantic Avenue “parking” raises concerns

by Rich Hewitt

Selectmen spent much of Monday’s meeting discussing concerns over delivery trucks blocking access to Atlantic Avenue and in the end decided to invite two key parties—the fire department and the owner of the Harbor View Store—to meet in an effort to resolve the issue.

Frustrated with the perpetual problem of trucks blocking the fire lane, selectmen proposed the meeting between the fire department and Tony Bray, owner of the store and the adjacent Stonecutters Kitchen. Town Manager Kathleen Billings will try to schedule that discussion for the next selectmen’s meeting.

Fire Chief Ryan Hayward raised the concern last month when he told selectmen that trucks often park in the middle of Atlantic Avenue while making deliveries to the store. Although there is a narrow loading zone painted on the road, customers often park in that zone forcing the trucks into the road. Atlantic Avenue, however, provides the only access for fire department vehicles. Hayward and other firefighters expressed concern last month that it is only a matter of time before the fire department will need to respond to a call and will be blocked and forced to waste valuable time searching for a driver to move the vehicle.

At a previous meeting, selectmen had discussed the possibility of painting a “no parking” notice on the road and imposing a hefty fine for drivers parked in that area. Billings on Monday explained that the town’s parking ordinance already has designated Atlantic Avenue as a fire lane and “no parking is allowed.” Although the ordinance permits commercial trucks to load and unload in the designated area, it specifically states that “under no circumstances shall … Atlantic Avenue be obstructed, or blocked by motor vehicles loading or unloading unless they have the express authority given by the town manager/road commissioner.”

The parking ordinance allows for fines of $50 for violations of the parking ordinance, but selectmen had discussed much steeper penalties, suggesting $1,000 as a possible fine. Having discussed the matter with Chief Deputy Pat Kane of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office, Billings said there was “no way” the town could impose that steep of a fine. She said she is researching state statutes to determine what the limit on civil penalties is.

With unspent funds recycled back from surplus, money is available for enforcement, although the town and HCSO are still working out details for combating the perennial summer parking problem.

Selectman John Robbins was a proponent of a high fine. He urged the board to make the fine stiff enough to make the truck drivers take notice and high enough to cover the costs of an officer going to court if the matter went that far. Selectman Travis Fifield backed that approach, but suggested that officers be given some leeway to ease into the fine, the equivalent of issuing a warning for a moving violation.

Selectmen noted that the delivery trucks were not the only issue. Residents who park in the loading zone are contributing to the problem and could be subject to a ticket as well.

Selectmen were openly frustrated with the situation. Selectman Evelyn Duncan pointed out that they have been dealing with these types of parking issues for decades. They also noted that Atlantic Avenue is not the only area where there are issues with delivery trucks. Those commercial vehicles also block traffic on Main Street which is also Route 15, a state-owned road. But, Atlantic Avenue is the only one designated as a fire lane.

In other action, the selectmen authorized the expenditure of up to $5,000 for a clam committee clam seeding project. The committee is working with the state’s Department of Marine Resources on the project which uses “spat” boxes to raise seed clams. This is a test project which the DMR has conducted in at least one other area along the coast. The funds will be used to purchase screens used in the spat boxes and netting to protect them once they are in the water.

The vote to spend the funds was 3-1 with Chairman Donna Brewer opposed. Although she supported the project, Brewer expressed concern about the clam committee finances. The $5,000 comes from a committee account funded through the sale of licenses. Billings estimated that there is about $18,000 left in that account. Brewer expressed concerns that drawing down that account could limit the number of hours the clam warden could patrol the flats. The clam warden is also paid from that account.

Her concerns are shared since the clam account came under pressure last year and had to draw on reserves to fund operations. Although the two island towns work together on clam conservation issues, Stonington is funding the clam seeding project because Deer Isle’s clam fund is under the same kind of pressures.