BLUE HILL — An aging population, a low birthrate, insufficient high-speed internet, a lack of workforce housing and skyrocketing costs for waste disposal and education were just a few of the issues named by select board members from Surry to Stonington at a peninsula-wide meeting Oct. 6 at the Sedgwick Fire House on the Ridge Road.
About 20 residents as well as a dozen members from various select boards attended, including organizer Ben Astbury, chairman of the Sedgwick Select Board, Sedgwick Select Board member Michael Sheahan, Penobscot Chairman Harold Hatch, Brooklin’s Stacia Nevin and Bill Cohen, Blue Hill’s Jim Dow, Ellen Best and Scott Miller, Surry Select Board member Chris Stark, Brooksville Chairman John Gray and Stonington Select Board member Evelyn Duncan. Stonington Select Board Chairman Donna Brewer attended via Zoom as did Hancock County Planning Commission Executive Director Jarod Farn-Guillette. Deer Isle Town Manager Jim Fisher took notes.
The issues cited affect safety, business and quality of life.
“Walker Pond broke the ice,” said Astbury on collaboration between towns. Sedgwick and Brooksville worked together to develop public access, including a beach and picnic area on Walker Pond and the towns continue to work together to maintain the property.
Dow said the fire departments and EMTs were a concern for him.
“They’re not young people, most of them,” Dow said. “It’s going to be a major issue.”
Dow asked, “How do we attract young people? Employment is one issue. Affordable housing is another.”
“Stonington and the rest of us are going to be affected by the whale rules,” said Duncan.
Climate change is another.
“We have identified four major areas for seawater rise in Stonington,” she said.
Duncan also cited the impending closure of the nursing home on the island and the bankruptcy filing of Island Employees Cooperative, which operates three stores on Deer Isle. “I suspect that will resolve itself with the court system.”
“So, if we could fix everything here, that’d be great,” Duncan quipped.
Best cited broadband access, climate change, roads and infrastructure concerns.
“I would echo the DOT subject,” said Nevin. “We are being faced with heavy detours,” once the Falls Bridge replacement project starts.
Stark said the Surry board is concerned about unserved and underserved residents and high-speed internet access.
Sheahan is concerned about education.
“I think we need to address K-8 education,” he said. “We spend roughly a lot of money to educate K-8 students.”
Cohen cited health care, housing and broadband as issues needing to be addressed.
“For the first time in 50 years, we’re sitting in a room together saying, ‘These are our problems,’” he said.
“It’s a pretty good list so far,” said Gray.
Rising home prices are a concern for Gray’s town —Brooksville — which, he said, formed a housing committee this week.
Astbury added that trying to have “continuity” with a code enforcement officer and animal control officer positions is another challenge.
“One call every couple months has turned into a call a week,” Astbury said. “Quite frankly, those are dangerous positions.”
Hatch, the Penobscot Select Board chairman, said the cost of tipping fees was another issue along with the cost of recycling.
“We could do more regional recycling,” Dow said.
Duncan said she would like to find one place for household food waste that everyone could join that would be cost-effective and possibly generate a byproduct.
Fisher added safe drinking water for the island to the list.
“We lose our drinking water, we’re going to be in tough shape,” he said.
Fisher reminded the group that the peninsula towns worked together successfully a few years ago to influence the Maine Department of Transportation to make the reconstruction of Route 15 a priority.
Cohen said he wanted more information about President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill.
“We’re slightly isolated,” said Cohen. “Is the infrastructure bill in Washington a curse or a blessing? If it is, are we going to haphazardly walk into it? Are we going to rely on MMA [Maine Municipal Association] emails?”
A shortage of public works employees was also mentioned.
Gray added, “There’s a lot of things neighboring towns can do to cut their expenses and get more coverage. The idea of towns getting together and doing things together is a really good idea.”
The group plans to meet again this fall.