Bridgton Selectmen notes: Patience urged on Depot Street grass project

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

As a longtime gardener and landscape designer, Lucia Terry understands the importance of patience.

Yes, this summer was a tough one when it came to growing grass — too hot at times — along sections of Depot Street.

Yet, Terry is pleased with the progress being made and is highly-optimistic that expected results will be seen in 2019.

“We’ll see,” Selectman Bear Zaidman said.

Some people don’t share that view, and let Bridgton Board of Selectmen Chairman Lee Eastman know what they think.

“There’s a lot of concern,” said Eastman Tuesday night, noting some taxpayers expected better results by now based on the money spent on the two-year project. “To me, it looks the same. Ask the 17 people that talked to me (about it) and the different adjectives they used to describe it. I’m not at liberty to say.”

Eastman agreed it was a tough growing season, but he noted that grass was successfully grown at ballfields and golf courses.

Eastman initially wondered whether the town should continue with the project, despite entering a contract. Some officials thought a “hardscape” surface was the way to go, but were convinced to give the natural grass option a final chance.

Resident Sue Hatch called for patience. “You need to give it a chance to grab hold,” she said. “It’s a process.”

Terry pointed out that the space required far more work than expected, including the removal of some very large rocks. With some reseeding both this fall and spring, Terry expects the plots to fill in and reach the goal — green space that can hold up under foot traffic generated by the Farmers Market, while also requiring little maintenance.

Hatch noted that the town has a grass problem at Highland Lake Beach, as well. Officials think that scraping away snow for Winter Carnival may have added to winter kill. Adjustments will be made.

Kidder noted that the town has seen improvement in grass conditions at the cemetery off Kansas Road. A Sports Field representative inspected the site and found that it had a bug problem — three species, in fact. Once treated and the areas fertilized, grass grew and has kept the town crew busier with mowing than in past years.

In other news:

  • Inspection of Pondicherry Park by an arborist from Q-Team in Naples has been finished, and a report regarding the number of dangerous trees to be taken down as soon as possible and those that need trimming is forthcoming.
  • Testing at town beaches for contaminants has stopped for this season. A spreadsheet listing results at five swimming areas showed:

Highland was closed twice after posting levels of 2420 and 313 on Aug. 8–9 — the safe mark is 230. In regards to the 2420 reading, officials wondered if a “dirty diaper” had been in the water just prior to gathering a water sample, producing such a high contaminant level. Highland posted failing marks on July 26 (280) and July 30 (291).

Salmon Point Beach had a 238 reading on July 26, while another sample at Salmon Point reached 387. In seven other tests, the highest level at Salmon Point Beach was 43 on July 12, while Salmon Point’s high was 71 on Aug. 29.

Plummers Landing never came close to reaching the 230 mark, its highest reading was 110 on Aug. 8.

Woods Pond experienced closure, but numbers for the remainder of the summer were quite low.

  • New location for the Pleasant Mountain Chapter MOAL (Maine Obsolete Auto League) Old Car Club will be the municipal complex front parking lot.

Selectmen approved the request to run the vintage car club’s Cruise Night at the town parking lot, a few get togethers to close out this season, as well as 16 scheduled “nights” in 2019. Cruise Nights are held on Wednesdays from 5 to 7:30 p.m., well after the town office closes.

  • Slight change was made to the town’s owned/leased vehicle policy. There was discussion at a previous meeting regarding use of town vehicles by the Fire Chief, Police Chief and Public Works Director.

Because the fire chief stores firefighting gear in the town car, there was some conversation by selectmen regarding vehicle usage on private time.

Selectmen approved the policy, which includes the following clause, “Recognizing the Bridgton Fire Department is a municipal volunteer fire department and available call-out firefighters may be limited, the Bridgton Fire Chief, at his discretion, may use the town vehicle for personal use to allow for a timely response to emergencies.”

  • More questions regarding the state of Bridgton’s fire department were raised by Mark Harmon, who served six years as a selectman back in the mid 1990s, during the meeting’s public comment period.

He questioned why the department’s airboat has been out of service, and who was repairing it. Chairman Eastman said the boat is being overhauled, including painting and rebuilding the engine.

Harmon wondered if the town was placing itself at risk for a lawsuit if “something happens” as the result of work not being done by a “qualified” service person.

He then raised the question regarding the dwindling number of firefighters, and if the town is adequately covered if a fire broke out.

Again, Eastman and Selectwoman Carmen Lone noted that at a previous meeting, Fire Chief Steve Fay clarified that a number of names on the roster he inherited were no longer active, some having retired.

Harmon tried to seek an answer regarding why a longtime firefighter with 30 years of experience was asked to “step down.”

Town Manager Bob Peabody said there would be no answer to that question since it falls under “personnel” and state law prohibits municipalities from releasing such confidential information.

That closed out Harmon’s fire department questions, but he had one more inquiry. He wondered why the town had not harvested timber at its 100-acre Foster Pond property. Harmon said past harvests netted the town a good return, which helped reduce taxes. He suggested that if the town was no longer interested in timber harvesting there, it should sell the property.

Public Works Director Jim Kidder said the property has been placed in tree growth, and there are plans to cut in the future.

  • Keeping the wastewater project at the forefront is a goal of Board Chairman Lee Eastman as the town looks to create public awareness regarding the $22-plus million project. He suggested regular updates.

Despite presentations at board meetings and information carried on the town website, questions still abound regarding the wastewater system expansion and streetscape.

Resident Sue Hatch reminded selectmen that not everyone owns a computer and may not access the website. She suggested that pictures (“big enough to see”) of streetscape amenities be included in the newspaper or elsewhere for the public to see.

Resident Greg Bullard echoed those thoughts, noting that the project is “pricy,” and the public needs to be educated on “what’s going to happen during expansion.”

“I’m asking you to educate us,” he added.

Cathy DiPietro posed the following questions in a proposed Letter to the Editor: The stories so far regarding the proposed Bridgton sewer collection and treatment systems, including the Aug. 31 update, do not present a size or capacity for the system.

There have been vague “approximately three times the size of the existing system,” which would put it at 100,000 gallons a day. But, water use numbers from the Bridgton Water District average 300,000 gallons a day with summer peaks of 500,000-plus gallons a day. Are we to not treat 200,000 to 400,000 gallons a day?

The town needs to be much more forthcoming about what $20 million dollars are going to get us or we will face expansion before the first treatment units are even online?

The News passed along these questions to town officials, who forwarded them to the engineers for a response. At press time, that crafted explanation had not been received.

Selectmen felt the answers to those questions likely appears in a report on the town website. DiPietro said she was unable to find “defined capacity.”

Eastman did his own research regarding information on the town’s website, and found that not much “updating” had been done, since a number of documents were dated 2017. He felt current information needs to be added and be easily accessible.

“It’s only fair. It’s their (taxpayers) money,” Eastman said. “They shouldn’t have to work so hard (to find information).”

  • Filling the empty seat on the SAD 61 School Board will be handled at the next selectmen’s meeting. The town has received four applications, and the deadline to submit is Wednesday, Sept. 19. Applications are available at the town office or on the town’s website (www.bridgtonmaine.org). The term runs to June 2019.

Town Manager Bob Peabody suggested that selectmen make the appointment before the school board begins budgetary work, since Bridgton is the district’s top taxpayer and should be fully-represented in financial discussions.

Bridgton’s current directors are Karla Swanson-Murphy, Debra Albert, Karen Eller and Cynthia LeBlanc.

  • Town Hall sign should be delivered in two weeks by Muddy River Signs of Bridgton. It will be installed by the Public Works crew.

Next meetings: The next selectmen’s meeting is Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 5 p.m.

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