State official: not enough accidents at Rte. 3 intersection to warrant major expenditures

by Mary Grow

China selectmen spent more time on items not on their July 25 agenda than on agenda items.

The major non-agenda topic was discussion with David Allen of the state Department of Transportation and two sets of concerned residents about perceived dangerous areas in China, the intersection of Alder Park and Dirigo roads with Route 3, in the southern part of town, and Main Street and Causeway Road in China Village.  The most hotly disputed item on the agenda was the Transfer Station Committee’s recommendation on relocating the swap shop.

The major agenda item not discussed was proposed November ballot questions, although selectmen did decide to present to voters one question listed on the agenda. In preparation for the China meeting, Allen had a state report showing only four collisions in three years, 2013 through 2015, at the controversial Route 3 intersection – not enough, he said, to justify major expenditures.  The number of accidents has declined since changes several years ago, he said.

Area residents said sight distance is not adequate, especially with Route 3 drivers exceeding the 55-mile-an-hour speed limit.  Allen agreed the majority of drivers probably do 60 mph or more through the area.  The speed sign before the intersection is advisory, not legally binding, he said.

After discussing alternatives, selectmen agreed to have Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux request more conspicuous warning lights.  Allen said the request would go into the department’s pool of projects; he said it might take three years to get to it.

He agreed to add to the stop signs on Dirigo and Alder Park roads a sign saying Route 3 traffic does not stop, something that could be done this year.

Speed is also a major issue for China Village residents, who repeated their arguments from July 11 that drivers routinely ignore the 25-mile-an-hour limits on Main Street and Causeway Road and the stop sign at the end of Neck Road, endangering children and other pedestrians.

They claimed the increased law enforcement promised after the July 11 meeting has been minimal.

Again, Allen said the area has had too few accidents to justify major state expenditures.  He and residents discussed traffic calming measures, like speed humps, and Allen promised to send L’Heureux a copy of the department’s traffic calming policy.

Although Allen said explicitly that safety and efficiency are his two main responsibilities, with safety first, several residents said unhappily they fear someone will have to get killed before anything effective is done.

When discussion returned to the perennial topic of solid waste disposal, selectmen had before them a transfer station committee recommendation to move the swap shop slightly farther from the waste hopper, providing more space on a new foundation and requiring additional paving.  L’Heureux estimated the cost at around $10,000, including wages for transfer station employees who would be asked to build the new building.

The plan was endorsed by board members Joann Austin and Irene Belanger, who have long promoted the swap shop as a way to increase recycling and help town residents.  It was opposed by board Chairman Robert MacFarland and members Ronald Breton and Neil Farrington.

MacFarland said it is not a budgeted project and he will not spend $10,000 on a non-budgeted item.  Breton asked where the money would come from, and was not satisfied with the answer “the transfer station budget.”

Farrington proposed instead of a new building using the electronics building near the office for the swap shop, claiming it is almost empty.  He said he had not presented the idea to the transfer station committee, of which he and Belanger are members.  None of the committee’s non-selectman members were present.

After the motion to approve the committee recommendation was defeated 2-3, Belanger walked out of the meeting in frustration.

The list of possible November ballot questions on the July 25 agenda included asking voters about use of the Town of Palermo’s annual $18,000 contribution for sharing China’s transfer station; buying land owned by the Ortega family behind the town office; buying land owned by Susan Bailey at the head of China Lake, on the north side of Causeway Road; and pending planning board recommendations on China’s sign ordinance, seasonal dwellings requirements, shoreland zoning amendments and possible “causeway initiative items.”

Selectmen voted 3-0-1, with Belanger absent and Austin abstaining, to recommend to voters that Palermo’s contribution go into a transfer station capital reserve fund.

In other business July 25:

•  L’Heureux and selectmen reported they bought the portable classroom beside China Primary School from Regional School Unit #18 for $1.  L’Heureux said in an email July 26 that since board members have not decided where to use it, they have not sought cost estimates for a foundation, well or other related expenditures.

• Board members had two new bids on replacement handicapped access ramps at the old town house and the former portable classroom behind it, the lower $17,975 from L. N. Violette Company, of Fairfield.  Again there was discussion of where the money would come from, with neither the old town house appropriation nor the selectmen’s contingency fund considered acceptable.  On another 3-0-1 vote, selectmen authorized L’Heureux to ask if the company would replace one ramp for no more than $9,000, from an undetermined source.

• Board members appointed Amy Gartley to the Tax Increment Financing Committee and Kristina To to the Thurston Park Committee.  With two candidates for one open seat on the recreation committee, they postponed a decision.

• They approved a pawnbroker’s license for Craig Taylor to open Wildwood Pawn Inc.

• Assessor William Van Tuinen talked with the board about the effect of the increased homestead exemption on 2016 taxes, state law regarding abatements and his plans for better collection of personal property taxes.  Selectmen supported the last item by consensus.

• Selectman Farrington, who is organizing China’s 2018 bicentennial celebration of the incorporation of the town, said David Thurlow has donated to the town the copyright for the bicentennial history published during the 1975 commemoration of the first settlements around what is now China Lake.  Selectmen voted to send Thurlow a letter of appreciation.

The next regular China selectmen’s meeting will be Monday evening, Aug. 8.

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