COLUMBIA FALLS — A citizen has filed a petition with the Columbia Falls town office requesting a revote on the decision to withdraw from the Pleasant River Solid Waste Disposal District.
The district was founded in 1993 after state law mandated municipalities provide trash disposal and reduce waste through recycling.
Due to confusion over legal issues related to the interlocal agreement binding together the six member towns, two of them — Jonesport and Columbia Falls — voted at their town meetings in March to withdraw from the district. The other member towns are Columbia, Addison, Jonesboro and Beals.
Wanda Bradford believes Columbia Falls should reconsider its decision. The Columbia Falls resident attended the disposal district board meeting last Monday night in Addison, where she announced that, earlier that day, she had gone to the town office and filed the petition requesting a new vote. She had gathered 42 signatures.
“We the undersigned as concerned citizens of the municipality of Columbia Falls, Maine, request a revote on the article ‘to see if the town of Columbia Falls will vote to withdraw from Pleasant River Solid Waste Disposal District.’ We further request that the meeting vote be governed by the state law,” the petition reads.
The state law in question is SS 1728, the “Withdrawal of member municipalities” portion of the Maine Refuse Disposal District Enabling Act. It says a town wishing to withdraw may do so, subject to approval by the district board. “The town meeting or city election, as the case may be, to consider withdrawal shall be called by the municipal officers upon receipt of a petition of 10 percent of the number of voters in the municipality who voted in the last gubernatorial election,” the statute states.
The statute also states “The number of votes required for passage shall be 2/3 of those voting.”
At the annual Town Meeting March 19, Columbia Falls residents voted 43-35 to withdraw from the district, said Town Clerk Heather Grant.
Bradford said 52 votes in favor would have been required to meet the two-thirds majority. She also said discussion on the topic at the town meeting was abruptly halted.
“Everybody was really angry. There was a lot of talk after that,” Bradford said.
Columbia Falls Selectman Nancy Bagley said town officials did their best to disseminate information prior to the vote through a series of meetings.
“We strove as far as we possibly could to give the residents the information they needed,” she said.
At the time of the Columbia Falls Town Meeting, disposal district officials were seeking legal guidance on the interlocal agreement and possible dissolution of the district or the withdrawal of member towns. Clarification came in the form of a letter from attorney John Hamer dated April 19.
Further complicating matters, Columbia Falls’ former representative to the board had not been keeping the town properly informed, Bagley said. For the past two months, Columbia Falls officials have attended the meetings themselves.
Bagley said she is unable to say whether a special town meeting will be scheduled for a revote. The issue will be on the agenda of the next selectmen’s meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. May 28.
“We have to discuss it as a board and make a decision,” she said.
Jonesport is moving ahead with plans to withdraw. District board member Harry Fish, a Jonesport selectman, asked the rest of the disposal district board to calculate the costs for its withdrawal at the end of June.
State law requires a withdrawing municipality to pay its fair share of any outstanding debt. It also allows the disposal district to require that a withdrawing member cover costs incurred by other members as a result of its departure.