Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, May 24, 2018
Island selectmen discuss mutual issues, goals
Deer Isle Selectman Twyla Weed and Stonington Selectman Travis Fifield catch up before a joint meeting of the two boards on May 17.
by Monique Labbe
In an historic event for the island communities, the Deer Isle Board of Selectmen hosted the selectmen from Stonington to discuss mutual issues on May 17. The two boards have never jointly met before.
Common issues that were brought up during the hour and a half long discussion included crumbling and eroding roadways and a lack of response from the Department of Transportation, the future of the island school system, and a lack of workers to fill employment needs, both year-round and seasonal.
“I think the best way to get a response [from DOT] is a combined effort from the towns,” said Stonington Selectman Evelyn Duncan. “Not just our towns, even pull in Blue Hill and Sedgwick. There’s only one way on and off this island.”
Selectmen from both towns expressed concern over rising tides over the causeway coming onto the island, especially during more powerful storms. When the tide is high during those storms, water comes up over the causeway, creating dangerous driving conditions as well as damaging the infrastructure of the road itself.
“I don’t know what the answer is, but something needs to be done,” said Deer Isle Selectman Ron Eaton.
In terms of the school’s future, a clear answer to those issues was not determined either, although Duncan noted that it “is going to be very nasty, and difficult. There are a lot of emotions.”
Duncan added that the future of the school ultimately comes down to the quality of education that can be provided.
“When young people think about moving here, of course they ask about the school system. When they hear bad things about it, coming here doesn’t sound attractive to young families,” she said.
Deer Isle Selectman Twyla Weed said that enrollment numbers have steadily declined over the last several years, and that the amount of money it would cost to fix all of the problems with the Deer Isle-Stonington High School building alone may simply not be worth it.
“They built that building and then really haven’t done anything to it since,” said Weed. “The same thing is happening at the elementary school right now.”
“Nostalgia isn’t going to educate kids,” added Stonington board chairman Donna Brewer.
Both Deer Isle Town Manager Jim Fisher and Stonington Town Manager Kathleen Billings addressed the concern of worker shortage. Fisher said that there are employment opportunities ranging from restaurant work to working the docks during the summer season, while Billings noted that there is a shortage of trade services, including plumbing and electrical, throughout the year.
Eaton added that he had been talking to someone in town earlier in the week, who told him that online job listings for the island communities totaled 65 open positions.
“We have the jobs, we just don’t have the people interested to fill them,” he said.
Fisher suggested the possibility of adapting a youth employment program, where both towns would work with the younger people in the communities to fill some of the positions.
“Brooklin does something similar. It could be an option,” he said.
Brewer also brought up the Island Community Center building, which is in need of major repairs, she said. Brewer told the Deer Isle selectmen that the Stonington board is under “major pressure” to come up with a solution for preserving the building for the future. She asked the Deer Isle selectmen if they had any interest in being a part of that.
Weed, who spent time on the Island Community Center board, said that the amount it would cost to repair the building to a suitable state moving forward does not seem to be in either town’s best interest. Eaton and Deer Isle Selectman Peter Perez shared in that thought, but both boards agreed that the services the community center provides are beneficial to the island.
“If there is a way to continue those services, and find a different place to provide them, that might be more reasonable,” said Fisher.
The board members also briefly discussed enforcement of shellfish laws and regulations, as well a future possibility of a joint fire department.
Ultimately, no action or future steps regarding any of the issues were discussed; however, all board members were in favor of meeting together again after the summer season to reevaluate.