WISCASSET — The Board of Selectmen received mixed comments on their current lawsuit against the Maine Department of Transportation, with some residents asking the board to justify their spending on the effort.

The lawsuit is part of an ongoing conflict between the town and the department, which intends to redesign portions of Route 1 in town in the hopes of alleviating traffic issues. The project would eliminate all on-street parking, install traffic lights, and demolish the Haggett Garage building on Water Street.

The lawsuit by Wiscasset is intended to hold the department accountable to the ordinances of the town – specifically a Historic Preservation ordinance voters recently supported. Started just a few weeks ago, the initial bill for the services of two lawyers is already over $16,000.

“What amount of money, taxpayer money, are you anticipating to have to allocate to this lawsuit, and at what point financially do you say ‘enough. Enough, we can’t do this any more?'” said Jody Elwell, a Wiscasset Resident. “Is there any kind of a contingency plan, have you thought about anything should the MDOT require the town pay for their legal fees should the judge rule in their favor? That’s not uncommon.”

The initial $16,000 was at first proposed to come out of the town’s discretionary fund, something a few board members opposed as they believe the spending doesn’t constitute an emergency.

“This, to me, is not an emergency,” said Board Chair Judith Colby. “I think we need to go back to the taxpayers and let them vote on whether they want to spend that $16,000.”

Other members felt that it did constitute one, as the department was ignoring the ordinances of the town of Wiscasset, something the board was intended to uphold.

“Our attorney met with their attorney, and we were told, that the state was not going to respect our town ordinance,” said Board Member Ben Rines. “I think it is incumbent upon us to uphold the ordinances of this town, and the board of selectman always has upheld it.”

Seaver Leslie, a member of Citizens for Sensible Solutions – a group formed to advocate for a re-think of the Route 1 project – said the town is fighting for more than just themselves, but for towns across the state, and that eyes are on the town.

“I think it’s important that the town of Wiscasset set a precedent in this state,” said Leslie.

Another resident, Sherri Dunbar, concurred that eyes are on the town, but not for positive reasons.

“It’s kind of embarrassing,” said Dunbar. “We’ve become the pettiest little village in Maine, instead of the prettiest little village in Maine.”

Dunbar said that she believes most of the town supports the project, and that going through with an expensive lawsuit wouldn’t be “fiscally responsible.”

Regardless of stance, some residents just called for a return to sanity in the increasingly tense debates between the two sides.

“Everybody is getting so heated on both sides, and I think we need to find some unity, because it’s getting bad in the town,” said Wendy Ross.

While board members may have disagreed on the initial $16,000, they did agree that any pursuit of the lawsuit would depend on whether the townspeople would vote to support it.

“There isn’t going to be a lawsuit unless the town votes to support it,” said Board Member Robert Blagden. “If the taxpayers don’t want to fund it, then they would vote no.”

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