GOULDSBORO — Two minutes or less.
That’s how long it took moderator Peter Drinkwater Monday night to read the warrant article at a special town meeting and for voters to unanimously approve taking up to $100,000 from the town’s unappropriated surplus to replenish its legal reserve account.
None of the more than 40 residents in attendance opposed or commented on the move, which was taken in response to the town already having almost spent the $20,000 budgeted for legal expenses for the 2021-22 fiscal year.
The budgeted funds were spent earlier than expected largely due to legal counsel needed to grapple with American Aquafarms’ plan to process Atlantic salmon and raise juvenile fish at the former Maine Fair Trade facility in Prospect Harbor.
At the Planning Board’s meeting Tuesday, Dec. 7, Chairman Ray Jones said Monday night’s vote was crucial for his board and Rudman Winchell attorney Tim Pease to proceed and fulfill the mandate arising from Gouldsboro’s Nov. 15 special town meeting. Voters overwhelmingly passed a six-month moratorium ordinance halting finfish aquaculture development.
The 180-day pause is intended to give the Planning Board time to review the town’s current ordinances and possibly propose amendments.
“If we can work with him [Tim Pease] on Zoom, I think we can accomplish what we need to do,” Jones told the public at the Dec. 7 meeting, noting Zoom sessions with Pease were less costly than in-person consultations. He said the Planning Board later this month could commence work with the Rudman Winchell attorney.
At the Dec. 7 meeting, several Gouldsboro residents expressed concern that the Planning Board had not yet commenced its review. The finfish aquaculture development moratorium retroactively took effect Sept. 15. They questioned whether board members will have sufficient time to study Gouldsboro’s ordinances and research finfish development-related rules elsewhere in the few remaining months. They also were unclear how they could express their views about any findings as part of that process.
Jones said the town’s current site plan review ordinance, which has been updated four times since its 2002 adoption, likely would cover any seafood-processing operation proposed in town. He noted American Aquafarms intends to purchase East Coast Seafood Group’s Prospect Harbor complex soon but has not actually acquired the property. Until American Aquafarms owns the facility, and submits a site plan to remodel it, he won’t know the Norwegian-backed company’s detailed plans to process its farm-raised salmon and produce juvenile fish to restock its two 15-pen sites planned in Frenchman Bay.
Gouldsboro resident and Springtide Seaweed LLC owner Sarah Redmond asked Jones whether the board has communicated directly with American Aquafarms in recent months.
“There have been no communications regarding details,” Jones responded, saying he had received periodic phone calls from American Aquafarms’ Director of Project Development Tom Brennan. “He does call me on occasion to see if anything is new.”
In light of American Aquafarms’ much publicized project, Prospect Harbor resident Jed West informed the board that retired architect and seasonal Lighthouse Point Road resident Robert Bushwaller has offered to carry out a risk analysis free of charge for the town of the proposed fish-farming operation’s potential impact on Gouldsboro.
Jones said such assistance was welcome. He also urged interested citizens to read and familiarize themselves with Gouldsboro’s site plan review and other ordinances that may be relevant. They are easily found on the town website under “ordinances” at gouldsborotown.com.
“The end result for all of us board members is to protect the town,” he said.
In other business, board members agreed to request various developers to take “corrective action” to comply with the town’s fire protection ordinance. The move followed Fire Chief Tate McLean’s earlier report that he and the town’s former fire chief Alden Tracey had found a nonfunctional fire pond on an empty Sandpiper Shores lot and three defective dry hydrants on unsold lots located on Walters, Robbins Point and Merganser Bay Shores roads. Mclean said the developers are responsible for the fire ponds and hydrants’ upkeep until the land is sold and the responsibility shifts to the new property owners.
In addition, Gouldsboro Infrastructure Superintendent Jim McLean proposed expanding the town’s shoreland ordinance to cover septic field repair or failure. McLean said he recently learned of two Prospect Harbor properties with dysfunctional septic systems. One lacks a septic field while the other has a defective tank. He says such violations put the town at risk of Prospect Harbor and other inlets being closed to shellfish harvesting.
Jones concurred the risk is great, and he and other Planning Board members agreed to review a proposed amendment at a future meeting.
“This is proactive — not reactive,” he said. “We’ll possibly take action on it very soon.”