News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, September 20, 2018
Stonington officials to review MRC settlement

by Rich Hewitt

Stonington will receive more than $185,000 as its equity payment from the Municipal Review Committee following the town’s departure from the MRC last spring.

Although selectmen have been waiting since April for those funds, they will not be too quick to cash the check. The town’s share of the equity funds was determined after an audit was completed, and Selectman Evelyn Duncan said Monday she wants to review it.

The payment, which totals $185,860, is the town’s share of an equity account that has accrued over the past 30 years. As charter members of the MRC, Stonington along with 86 other Maine towns, owns equity in PERC and its profits. Stonington along with 75 other towns—31 of them also charter members—opted to continue to send its trash to the PERC facility in Orrington when the original contract with PERC expired in April. Another 115 towns stayed with the MRC which backed a new Fiberight plant under construction in Hampden. The share of those towns that stayed with MRC was invested in the new plant. The share for those towns that stuck with PERC, which totals $11,650,160 according to a balance sheet from MRC, was distributed to the PERC towns.

The town has had difficulty in getting information from MRC officials during the past year, according to Town Manager Kathleen Billings, and the selectmen need time to review the information including the audit. Duncan stressed that she was not saying the amount the town received was incorrect. But, she echoed Billings’ noting that they need to go over the audit report carefully. The audit was a 15-month audit, which is unusual, she said, and a brief scan of the report indicated that PERC showed profits during the past year and the charter towns should still have been sharing in those profits.

The town’s equity share is a sore point in Stonington. Some early estimates put its value at as much as $220,000. That amount dropped by about $50,000 following a settlement agreement between PERC and MRC which set a very low value on the PERC facility, effectively reducing the value of the member towns’ share.

In other action, resident Ardis Cameron delivered a petition bearing 26 signatures asking selectmen to address the light pollution generated by the lights on Hagen Dock.

“They are blindingly bright, far brighter than anything we have seen in Camden, Rockland or other larger towns,” Cameron read from the petition. “Rather than an inviting presence, they destroy the atmosphere of an otherwise wonderful small town park and walkway. Worse, they make it impossible for neighbors to sleep at night, casting a harsh light that shoots into bedrooms and stays on all night.’’

Cameron argued that residents had been assured the lights would be localized and not have a negative effect on neighbors. She pointed out that other lights in town, such as those on Pink Street, are amber and more muted. While she praised much of the work done to improve Hagen Dock, Cameron said the lights are “both a dreadful eyesore and a shocking offense to evening strollers and residents trying to sleep.”

The petition asks that the selectmen “either dim the lights, replace the bulbs to amber, add shades to cast the light downward, or take whatever steps are needed to remedy this truly difficult and unpleasant situation.”

Selectmen were sympathetic. John Steed agreed that the lights were too bright and Billings noted that they had looked into possibilities after hearing initial concerns. The difficulty, she said, has been the design of the existing lights, their incompatibility with some of the suggested muting strategies, and the costs involved in making those changes. Changing one light bulb on the dock would cost an estimated $500. John Robbins suggested shutting off alternate lights, but selectmen were unsure if the lighting could be altered that way.

Conversely, Donna Brewer said fishermen like the lights which also light the area where they ground their boats to work on them.

Billings noted that the lights were part of the overall design for the dock and were installed in part because residents wanted there to be sufficient light on the sidewalk included in the dock renovations and rebuild, and to discourage some illegal activities that had been taking place on the dock in the night. Selectmen agreed to bring in a local electrician to examine the lights and provide suggestions.

Selectmen authorized Billings to continue to work with Blue Hill and others to investigate the possibility of establishing a regional animal control officer position. Selectmen also authorized Billings to work with local banks and to transfer funds where the town could get the best interest. Billings told selectmen that this is a regular practice at this time of year.