Abbot officials consider enacting East-West Highway moratorium

By Bill Pearson
Staff Writer

    ABBOT — With its neighbor — Monson — imposing a six-month moratorium against privately owned highways last fall and fellow Piscataquis municipality — Sangerville — following suit last month, town officials are considering whether they should do the same. The selectmen voted 3-0 on April 16 to contact Monson and Sangerville officials about advising them on enacting a moratorium of their own.

    Both the Monson and Sangerville efforts were citizen generated by residents who opposed the privately owned 220-mile highway project. These residents were in hopes the moratorium would thwart the efforts of Cianbro Corporation Chief Executive Officer Peter Vigue — who has been the East-West highway’s biggest proponent — to construct the toll road from Calais to Coburn Gore.
    In Abbot, the selectmen favor a moratorium, not due to opposing the highway, but rather to give residents more time to consider the proposal’s merits.
    “Where we stand now, we don’t have a leg to stand on,” said First Selectman Mickey Knowles. “If they want to come crashing through Abbot with this highway — they can do it. This will give us time to lay down some groundwork to be ready when they apply for permits.”
    Abbot, like Monson and Sangerville, doesn’t have a comprehensive plan. The moratorium allows these municipalities time to draft and enact an ordinance dealing with privately-owned projects. While Abbot officials want to base their proposal on Monson’s moratorium language, the selectmen want their ordinance to have one clear distinction.
    When Monson voted last fall their moratorium placed a hold on privately-owned highways, high tension power lines and pipelines. Monson’s moratorium resulted in First Wind bypassing the town in constructing a generator lead line from their Bingham Project wind farm in Somerset County to the Central Maine Power substation in Parkman.
    The town of Abbot recently entered into a community benefits agreement with First Wind, a Boston-based power company. The selectmen don’t want their proposal to place similar restrictions on the wind power project. First Wind has entered into a 20-year agreement with the town to run their power line along a section of the Gales Road. The town would receive $20,000 a year as part of their agreement with First Wind.
    The selectmen decided that the residents had approved the CBA with First Wind so they didn’t want any restrictions against privately-owned utility projects included in their proposed moratorium.
    “That’s a go once the legal review is finished,” Knowles said. “I don’t think our moratorium against the East-West Highway should affect our agreement at all with First Wind.”
    The selectmen plan on reviewing the information gathered from neighboring municipal officials next month. The selectmen will use the information to draft an article for a proposed moratorium. The selectmen would then schedule a special town meeting later this year to vote on the proposal.
    “This doesn’t mean we are against the East-West Highway,” said Selectman Basil Patterson. “I think the town needs some time to get more information about how it will affect us. Whether you’re for it or against it, I think everyone would agree the right thing to do is become better informed.”
    In other action, the selectmen voted 2-0 with one abstention to accept Knowlescape Seasonal Services’ bid to handle cemetery maintenance. Knowlescape was the low bid from the three received. The firm bid $4,500 to perform spring and fall cleanup and mow the cemetery lots. The selectmen will meet with Knowlescape owner Jody Knowles later in the month about also assuming the sexton’s duties.
    The other bids came from Abbot resident Alvin Mcalister, who bid $6,200, and Blue Water Tree and Lawn, Inc. of Charleston, with a $7,800 bid.
    Mickey Knowles abstained from voting because he is Jody Knowles’ father.
    The selectmen will meet next at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 21.

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