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Originally published in Castine Patriot, September 6, 2012
Castine citizens push for Back Shore field funds

by Sharon Bray

The Board of Selectmen met Tuesday, September 4, with no business on the agenda but ended up in lively discussion with citizens.

Therese Biggie led the charge to divert voter-approved funding for Ft. George to playing fields at the backshore. She had the backing of other citizens, several of whom had begun work on the additional recreation area more than a year ago.

In June 2011, Scott Vogell had asked selectmen to support a citizen initiative to clear a piece of town-owned property. Clearing work done by volunteers revealed a mostly level area near the saltwater pond sometimes referred to as a swimming pool.

“At this point, all we want is your blessing,” Vogell had said to selectmen, “that you don’t say ‘no’ to the possibilities.”

This week Vogell again encouraged selectmen to think positively about the town’s future needs and the long-term benefits of developing the Back Shore area for recreation.

The money in question, a little more than $11,000, was approved by voters at this year’s town meeting to be spent on restoring the old fort’s baseball field.

Because the grassy area inside the fort is infested with grubs, field work would have to wait until Spring, according to Town Manager Dale Abernethy.

The Back Shore needs about $8,000 worth of work, Biggie said. Because grubs are not an issue, the work could be done this fall.

Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Gus Basile said he is “uncomfortable” with moving the money after people voted to spend it on the fort.

Finance Officer Karen Motycka said a shift of funds would require a town vote.

Katrina Dagan, recently hired teacher, coach and athletics director at the Adams School, summarized her report on the condition of Fort George. She said the size of the fort limits its potential for baseball and soccer.

Among Dagan’s comments in an email Biggie forwarded to selectmen: “rocks on the field … pitcher’s mound which does not come out of the ground …‘grass’ is more weeds than grass … extremely spiky …”

At the meeting she showed selectmen a sketch depicting the size of a “regulation” soccer field—240 ft. x 330 ft.—compared to the 190 ft. x 90 ft. space available at Fort George. The fort’s field, Dagan said, would be fine for younger students playing soccer, but too small for the Adams School middle school team.

She also said based on her many years of involvement with youth sports, “that Little League field is unplayable.”

Basile said state Little League officials had inspected the field “about two years ago” and pronounced it safe and adequate.

Unger asked Town Clerk Susan Macomber if the recreation committee had discussed the Back Shore proposal.

Macomber, also a member of the rec committee, replied, “Not yet.”

Discussion moved toward whether an article could be placed on ballots for the November town meeting. Castine’s official town meeting is Election Day in November with its open discussion “budget town meeting” in the spring.

Macomber said additions to the ballot would have to be done before she receives absentee ballots from the state, usually around the end of September and the law requires her to make absentee ballots available the day they arrive at the office.

Since selectmen have vowed to ensure all local issues will be on ballots for absentee voters, Macomber said Basile’s suggested deadline of October 1 could be too late.

“We have to schedule a public hearing on money for Fort George or the Back Shore,” said Selectman Peter Vogell. He suggested adding the hearing to the September 17 selectmen’s meeting.

Before a public hearing, Unger said selectmen would want a written proposal from the Back Shore advocates and a recommendation from the recreation committee.

Biggie asked Macomber if she could schedule a rec committee meeting right away.

Macomber told Biggie to call other members of the committee to set up a meeting as she will be out of town for the next week. “They don’t need me there” to discuss this issue, she said.

The deadline was unclear as Macomber said, “I cannot hold up absentee ballots beyond October 1.”

The ballots “have to be available 30 days before election,” Macomber added.

Abernethy calculated that October 1 is 35 days before the November 6 election.

Selectmen scheduled a public hearing to be held at their September 17 meeting at 4 p.m. in Emerson Hall.