As founder and CEO of Coastal Enterprises, Inc., I spent 35 years in Wiscasset mostly on Water Street in the Haggett Garage, our former headquarters. Since retiring in July 2016, I’ve be trying to help Wiscasset small businesses save their village parking – and the Haggett Garage – from demolition.

On April 17, I urge Wiscasset citizens to vote YES to press on with the town’s lawsuit against the Maine Department of Transportation.

At a cost of $5 million of Maine taxpayer dollars, MDOT’s plan won’t work. The suit starts with the rights of the Town of Wiscasset – local laws matter. Here are four reasons the town should vigorously make their case in the courts:

First, let the courts decide. It won’t cost Wiscasset taxpayers a dime. The very good news is this: Not only does the town have a strong case to win this David and Goliath confrontation, but also, citizens and businesses have stepped up to pay the town’s legal costs. An escrow agreement is in the hands of the town and its lawyers at Plumb & Murray.

Taxpayers are not at risk.

Second, a lot is at stake, especially for municipalities. Wiscasset voters have the chance to see exactly what the court will say about MDOT’s conduct and authority to circumvent Wiscasset’s laws. The lawsuit was filed on Nov. 29, 2017, in Maine’s Business and Consumer Court. The next day the court slapped a Temporary Restraining Order on MDOT to stop any construction pending court action.

The gist of the lawsuit challenges MDOT’s intention to by-pass the town’s historic ordinances and construction codes that require Certificates of Approval from the Historic Preservation Commission, and other code enforcement permits.

The suit cites an MDOT Nov. 14, 2016, instruction to contract bidders: Please DO NOT apply for any local permits. It cites several other key complaints, among them, that voters rejected their plan all together in a June 13, 2017, binding referendum, a vote that MDOT continues to ignore!

Third, irrespective of one’s opinion of the project – the proverbial elephants are in the room — getting a grip on the twists, turns and facts about what has transpired is difficult. MDOT’s representations have shifted.

They’ve made changes — withdrawing from a federal application (perhaps to circumvent rigorous federal standards); or taking a property by eminent domain, when they said they wouldn’t; or not having a voter-approved cost-sharing Town and State Project Agreement.

The impact on small business has been ducked. National studies show removing on-street parking reduces a business’ revenue by as much as $25,000 a year. None of this has been mentioned by MDOT. The fact is they deleted reference to such adversity in their consulting engineer’s report.

By my back of the napkin calculation, 27 businesses — the vast majority of whom are against MDOT — will lose $675,000 annually!

More startling, as facts have unfolded, is the revelation that MDOT’s same engineering report concludes traffic flow will only marginally improve, and probably not for long. The reputable TND Engineering of Portsmouth’s review of MDOT’s assumptions explains wait time will be reduced as little as 15 seconds!

At one public hearing I attended, even an MDOT engineer had to confess traffic would still back up – two rather than perhaps three miles – in the best scenario.

Fourth, on April 17 a YES vote will get the court to weigh in and set the stage for much closer scrutiny of MDOT’s project. Citizens for Sensible Solutions and others challenging MDOT have revealed fact after fact of what’s been a confusing promotional endeavor by MDOT.

Now Gov. Paul LePage has taken a personal interest in the project, which perhaps adds a new wrinkle to the whole debate.

As the facts have become apparent that MDOT’s plan will not work, we hope the governor — and Commissioner David Bernhardt — will revisit these facts and work with the town in ways that sensible solutions can be constructively discussed and agreed to. That’s the way to avoid needless legal expenses.

The people of Maine value MDOT, its workers, employees, contractors. The agency is very important.

Wiscasset voters will go to the polls on the 17th. Let the court decide the merits of the case. In so doing, the town will send the right signal to protect its historical past and value its economic future — that its laws matter.

It will help us understand the limits of a state’s authority to overpower local communities. It will shine the light on Maine’s Sensible Transportation Policy Act of 1991 adopted by the people of Maine for a purpose: To value citizen participation, comprehensive plans, historic ordinances and codes, and alternative paths to come up with acceptable and workable solutions.

There are sensible solutions. Please vote YES on April 17, and support those who do.

Ron Phillips
Waldoboro