St. John Valley

Madawaska board postpones paving project and discusses reopening offices and services

MADAWASKA, Maine — The Madawaska Board of Selectmen discussed the proposed plan and timeline for the gradual reopening of town buildings and services at its video conference meeting held on Monday.

The town office and services have been shut down under Maine Gov. Janet Mills’ civil emergency orders to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Mills recently outlined a four-step plan that allows the gradual reopening of municipalities and businesses. Step one includes town services.

Town Manager Gary Picard said the proposed date for reopening the town office would be sometime between May 18 and June 1. A press release issued on Wednesday said the town office will open on May 26.

While employees who can work from home are still encouraged to do so, employees essential to regenerate town business — as well as other members of various town departments — would be required to wear masks and use proper hand sanitation and glove changing.

The question arose as to whether the town would enforce the public to wear a mask.

“It would be wise to make it a recommendation rather than enforcing it,” Selectman Dave Morin said.

The board decided to post signage letting the public know that other members of the public might not be wearing masks.

For the recreation department, employees who can are encouraged to continue to work from home. The recreation program had more than 100 participants last summer. The governor’s plan to reopen the state continues to limit public gatherings to a maximum of 50 people until the end of August.

“I would hate to not have the summer programs for the kids this summer,” Picard said.

He raised questions about the town’s liability and the town’s limitations on being able to enforce social distancing among the children for any summer programs.

Picard asked the board to consider holding off on canceling summer programs for now. Depending on the outcome of summer programs, the summer food program, normally sponsored by the town, would also be canceled. Rather the school would pick up the slack and continue its lunch program available for all kids.

The board postponed a decision on the summer recreation programs in hopes that an idea would surface to benefit the children while still maintaining social distancing.

Picard was worried about sanitizing the playground equipment, but would like to see the parks “open for the kids.” Parks, including Birch Point Beach, will have signage indicating using the park and its equipment is at the public’s own risk, while bathrooms and other park equipment will remain closed.

Questions about whether signage is enough to protect the town from liability were deferred to the town’s insurance company, which hadn’t gotten back to Picard as of Monday’s meeting.

The town fitness center will not open until the beginning of June, and will have signs posted to encourage users to clean before and after equipment use.

Employees working in public works and pollution control will wear face masks and practice social distancing. Employees at high risk or working with sewage must wear full personal protection equipment. Picard said that scientists are doing sewage testing for COVID-19 to find hotspots for the virus, meaning sewage is a high risk area for virus contamination.

The Madawaska Police Department will operate with employees wearing face masks and practicing social distancing. The ambulance and fire departments have their own protocols.

Finally, the town moved to discuss the town sponsored events and activities.

From June 1 to Aug. 31, outdoor events and crowds on town property is still limited to no more than 50 people such as parades, music events and festivals.

This would include Music in the Park, Rhythm and Roots and the Acadian Festival.

The board voted to call off the Acadian Festival for 2020, but may reassess the situation in the late summer to see if another type of event would be possible.

Picard said the town can operate on last year’s budget for a limited time based on Gov. Mills’ order that allows towns to postpone annual meetings because of COVID-19. He said the town will likely operate on last year’s budget for one to two months before the town would be able to propose and pass the new fiscal year’s budget.

The board also postponed a $3 million road project that townspeople approved for the 2019-2020 budget. Picard received a single bid for the project from Northeast Paving for $3,367,735.90 on April 24.

Selectman Morin suggested the project be postponed for a year to give the town a chance to prepare the roads for hot top and to send bid requests directly to several companies rather than wait for them to read a notice in the paper and respond.

“I cannot, in good conscience at this time, agree to borrow money,” Selectman Laurie Gagnon said, though she added she would understand why people who drive those roads on a daily basis would not be pleased with this decision.

The board members decided by consensus to t hold off on borrowing money that could potentially raise taxes during a time when the town is not sure what their revenues will look like.

“I hate to see us get caught in a Catch 22 that comes back to haunt us,” Board Chairman Don Chasse said.

The board chose to postpone the project until 2021.

The next Board of Selectmen meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. Monday, May 18, and will be livestreamed on the Saint John Valley Live Facebook page.

Correction: The Madawaska town office will open on May 26, rather than the May 11 date discussed in the meeting and listed in the original story.

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