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News Feature

Stonington
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, March 1, 2012
It’s not the snow, it’s the sand, say selectmen
Selectmen discuss slippery roads

by Alice Wilkinson

Most of the February 27 Stonington selectmen’s agenda comprised routine business. The contract with Andrew McCullough, the supervising engineer on the Moose Island Causeway project, is being reviewed by the Maine Municipal Association prior to being signed; a new Animal Control Officer is close to being appointed; and a quit-claim deed was signed after the $2,000 in back taxes was paid.

On the subject of the taxes and the economy, Chairman Chris Betts said he had authorized the town’s giving someone 50 gallons of emergency fuel oil from the town’s fuel assistance funds in Billings-Pezaris’s absence.

The selectmen authorized the purchase of a light for the new backhoe. Billings-Pezaris read them the Maine laws on vehicles used on highways by municipalities, and it explains why snowplows are always lit up. According to statute, the light has to be visible from 500 feet away in the daytime. That requires a 50-candlepower light.

Because snowplows are so wide, when the wing is considered, and the shoulders on the Island are soft, often they take up more than half the road as they go along. The selectmen commented on people who pass the plows recklessly, pointing out that the plows have no place to go to get out of the way.

The salt-sand that the plows leave behind is clogging up the catchment basins near the fish pier. School Street, being quite steep, is heavily sanded, and Selectman George Stevens complained that you could slide right down the hill on the sand. He and Selectmen Richard Larrabee echoed Harbormaster Steve Johnson’s complaint that the harbor is silting up with the sand.

Billings-Pezaris said she had “gone round and round” with the Department of Transportation, who say it is the town’s responsibility to clean it up. Last year, FEMA money paid for vacuuming the basins, but the town doesn’t have the money to do it. She said she would talk to the Environmental Protection Agency to see if there is something the town could install for erosion control that would block the sand. A last ditch solution is hauling it out by the bucket load.

Larrabee asked why the town couldn’t just use salt on School Street, but the problem is that there aren’t enough trucks to dedicate one to salt only, and the time used in dumpling the unused salt back at the town garage and then filling the truck with the salt-sand mixture used on the other roads would be impractical.

Billings-Pezaris also pointed out that the problem is not just from winter sand but also from spring rains that wash anything on the roadsides downhill.

A request from the clerks for a software program for automobile registration was considered, but the selectmen put off any decision until later in the year, citing budget restraints. The program itself is listed at about $7,000, including training; Billings-Pezaris thinks that if she works on the company selling the program she can get a better deal.

In answer to a question from Selectman Donna Brewer about the relationship between the software costs and revenue, Billings-Pezaris said revenue from excise tax is about $200,000 annually.

The program would make bookkeeping easier, as it would track the kinds of registrations, compute the costs and keep all records. Another consideration is that currently the forms the clerks fill out have three carbons plus the original, and often the fourth carbon copy is almost illegible.

Selectman Evelyn Duncan said, “It’s a great idea. I just don’t see where we have the money.”

In a Stonington Water Company meeting that preceded the selectmen’s meeting, Superintendent Roger Stone said that he had contracted with Underwater Solutions of Mattapoisett, Mass., to clean the tank at the standpipe at a cost of $3,900. The tank was built in 1994, and was last cleaned eight or nine years ago. The selectmen, who are also the water company board, approved the expenditure.