BUCKSPORT — The Bucksport Town Council intends to declare the Spring Fountain Motel on Route 1 a dangerous building and order all inhabitants to vacate the establishment, citing safety issues for both motel guests as well as public safety personnel who must respond there in an emergency.
The council discussed the issue Feb. 11 with Code Enforcement Officer Luke Chiavelli, Town Manager Susan Lessard and Public Safety Director Sean Geagan.
The motel, which rents rooms by the week as well as by the month, belongs to Asad Khaqan, a New Jersey resident. The American could not reach Khaqan before press time. The motel’s phone number has been disconnected.
“Basically, this is a delicate situation, but we have visited the property,” Chiavelli said. “We’ve done a thorough inspection. It’s not good. It’s electrical issues, plumbing issues, the furnace hasn’t been serviced in years and doesn’t work. So, they’re all using space heaters to heat their rooms.”
Chiavelli said some rooms have pipes that have been duct taped. Others don’t have any pipes, just a 5-gallon bucket under the sink that gets emptied when full.
Chiavelli explained that the council needs to hold a public hearing and hear from the owners, if they wish to speak, and possibly take public comment, before listing the building as dangerous and issuing a vacate order.
“In order to do that process, we have to have a hearing,” Chiavelli said. “You would be the judge and jury. The town’s lawyer and myself would present our case. They would have a chance to present their case.”
The code officer said the town’s attorney thinks serving the owner with notice of the hearing could take some time, so the hearing is planned for April 8.
“This is a situation that’s been going on for a couple of years now,” said Public Safety Director Geagan. “We have people heating their apartments with space heaters, ovens, blow dryers, things of that nature. We are looking at life safety issues, not just for the people who live there, but for the people who work for me who are going to have to respond there. At this point, it’s up to the town to move forward to take care of the situation at hand.”
Chiavelli said the Maine Fire Marshal’s Office has visited and found violations.
“The fire marshal has made it very clear they don’t do enforcement,” Chiavelli said. “If something that’s already built is not up to code, they don’t seem willing to step in.”
“This really is about the life safety issues as Public Safety Director Geagan and Luke talked about,” Lessard said. “Both for the people who live there and the people who have to respond. There are so many people there living there in such compromised surroundings. It has the potential to be a very, very bad scene if something happened there.”
Councilor Dan Ormsby asked how many people were staying at Spring Fountain.
Lessard estimated 35 to 40. “But there’s more than one person in many of those rooms,” she said.
Geagan said “more than 40. Some rooms have a lot of people in them from what I understand.”
Council Chairman Peter Stewart asked if there wasn’t a quicker procedure the town could take.
“We asked that question,” Lessard said. “It is the fastest way. The only other way is an 80k land use violation, but the courts aren’t even hearing those right now because of COVID.”
“Some of these people are really good people and are down on their luck,” the code officer said. “We don’t want to and aren’t responsible to find them housing. So, we’re going to meet as a group to put together a list of resources. We’re trying to keep them safe.”
A social media post that a guest put up last February about being grateful to be at the motel stated that rooms cost $250 for the week or $700 to $850 for the month, depending on the room.
“What are you doing there?” one commenter asked.
“A place to stay warm,” the poster wrote.
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services licenses lodging establishments in Maine. However, Spring Fountain Motel didn’t meet the agency’s licensing requirements, so “they are currently deregulated,” the agency said Wednesday.
In 2019, the town of Bucksport issued a notice of violation and order for corrective action to the motel’s owner. At that time, there weren’t sufficient smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, according to the former code enforcement officer, Jeff Hammond. Those issues were ultimately addressed.
Hammond also cited a tripping hazard at the top of an outside stairway at the rear of the two-story building. An elevated concrete deck at the rear of the building contained extensive structural defects. The town also wanted the motel to install fire-rated drywall on the ceiling of the basement storage room as well as on the ceiling of the second-floor utility room.