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February 17, 2017

Wiscasset businesses seek to stop MDOT's Route 1 project

Four Wiscasset Village businesses have filed a complaint and a motion for preliminary injunction in the Lincoln County Superior Court, seeking to stop a Maine Department of Transportation project on Route 1 that Wiscasset voters approved in a nonbinding town referendum vote in June 2016.

Filing the complaint are the Wiscasset Village businesses Wawenock LLC, Bermuda Isles, LLC, 48 Federal Street LLC and 32 Middle Street LLC.

The plaintiffs allege the project has substantially changed since that vote and are seeking an injunction to stop the project in Wiscasset Village. The Bangor Daily News reported the plaintiffs' want a "valid" referendum vote after MDOT discloses the costs it intends the town to pay, and after showing the project will comply with all applicable historic preservation standards.

What the complaint alleges

A press release sent to Mainebiz by Portland attorneys Robert S. Hark and Peggy L. McGehee alleges that the $4 million to $5 million project — which is designed to ease traffic congestion in downtown Wiscasset, particularly during the summer tourist season — was originally to be 80% funded by the Federal Highway Administration and had to comply with federal historic preservation standards.

The plaintiffs allege that after the nonbinding vote in June, MDOT cancelled its federal funding application and has offered no public explanation for its unilateral action.

The Lincoln County News reported in November that MDOT Project Manager Ernie Martin said the decision to rely solely on state funds for the project would expedite its starting date, adding the project was a high priority.

The weekly newspaper reported at that time that some residents raised concerns the decision was to avoid having to comply with federal historic and environmental impact standards.

BDN reported that the town of Wiscasset had no comment on the lawsuit.

MDOT's response

In a written response to Mainebiz's request for comment, MDOT spokesman Ted Talbot said the department does not comment on pending litigation, but provided the following statement "to dispel any confusion about the nature and status of the project."

"The Wiscasset Downtown Improvement Project is a collaborative effort between the Town of Wiscasset and MDOT to address the long-standing summer traffic congestion in Wiscasset that impacts travelers and communities in the entire midcoast region.

"Over the past year, MDOT staff conducted a series of public meetings to receive input from Wiscasset residents and developed designs for reconfiguring traffic and pedestrian flow on Main Street to increase mobility and eliminate back-ups. Two preliminary design alternatives were voted upon by Wiscasset residents with the second alternative receiving overwhelming public support in a 2-to-1 vote. The Wiscasset Select Board ratified the selected preliminary design alternative unanimously.

"MDOT is now working out details so that the project design can be finalized with continued public input from a public advisory committee assembled by the Select Board that consists of Wiscasset residents. At this time, therefore, the design process for this Project is ongoing.

"At this point, the department has not initiated any eminent domain process or proceedings. The goal is for the project to be constructed within the existing right of way or through voluntary purchases so that no takings will be required. MDOT will pay for all highway-related work. The town will be responsible only for costs of features that it decides to add beyond the current scope of the project."

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