A meeting of minds
Blue Hill gathering to be model for Fix It Now! campaign
On May 10, more than 80 residents of 11 communities in southwestern Hancock County convened with representatives from MaineDOT for five hours in Blue Hill to express their concerns and urge major repairs on the Route 15 corridor. Selectmen and women from these communities were present along with area legislators. Former State Senator Jill Goldthwaite moderated and former State Senator and Transportation Committee Chair Dennis Damon served as an advisor for the meeting. MBTA's senior policy advisor John Melrose was present and gave a customized version of the association's Fix It Now! presentation. Kate Dufour represented the Maine Municipal Association. Senator Brian Langley (R-Hancock County) had requested the meeting with MaineDOT earlier this spring.
The testimony was compelling, as were the actual conditions on Route 15 even though the frost was now out of the road. Some referred to the road conditions as "inhumane" or like those in a "Third World country." Local fire and ambulance personnel spoke about their concerns – about severely reduced response times and road-damaged equipment that has necessitated downtime for repairs leaving only one ambulance available and stressing at risk patients on emergency runs to the hospital.
Over lunch, a lobsterwoman said the only good thing about the bumpy road was that when she was being taken to the hospital for a kidney stone the road surface "rumbled that thing right out of her.” Numerous participants spoke about vehicle repairs costing in the hundreds of dollars.
Representatives from fuel delivery companies, seafood wholesalers, a building supply company and public works departments spoke about more substantial road damage to larger rigs – costing in the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars.
Stonington Selectwoman Evelyn Duncan questioned MaineDOT’s highway rankings. She wondered why Route 15 south of Route 3 was a priority 3 highway and not higher. Route 15 is a priority 2 highway, from Bucksport to Brewer.
The point was made that peninsulas should be considered differently. With water on three sides, the road options are limited and, as important, the expense to the state is limited as well.
In the afternoon, MaineDOT representatives addressed the audience and answered questions. They acknowledged the poor conditions and indicated MaineDOT was adding an unscheduled design project to their work plan to address seven poor miles on Route 15 in north Blue Hill and the town of Penobscot. No assurance was given as to when the worst sections in Stonington, Deer Isle, Blue Hill and Penobscot might be reconstructed.
Community leaders attending the meeting voiced their commitment to continued advocacy for Hancock County highways. A petition drive is underway through the online service www.change.org and already has more than 400 signatures collected. Comments are being gathered on bad sections of the road and linked to an online map the public can view. The group was made aware of the effort made in Aroostook County over a dozen years ago to fix Route 11 that resulted in more than 50 miles of improvement in three years. In that case, local residents convinced the legislature it had to act, and the legislature provided the essential funding needed to make it happen.