March 2020 Newsletter

Bristol Notes - March 2020

For the Bristol Selectmen:

Chris Hall, Town Administrator

In a Time of Plague

I’m writing this on March 18th, at a time when Bristol is facing what may prove to be the greatest threat to our community in a hundred years, as the Covid-19 virus spreads through Maine. For those reading this away from Maine, two cases have been confirmed to date in Lincoln County – both apparently health care professionals.

Bristol is seeing an early spring in many ways, due to the lack of snow and warm days in March so far, and now we are welcoming many seasonal residents back who are returning to Bristol hoping we are a somewhat safer place to live at this time than an urban area. I’m sorry that our area’s restaurants and such community pillars as the Damariscotta YMCA and Lincoln Theater are closed due to the virus, but I’m glad that (unlike the Damariscotta shops) Reilly’s Market has maintained a regular supply of goods in short supply elsewhere. Perhaps Bristol residents have more sense than to hoard toilet paper!

For those with an interest in history: the great ‘Spanish Flu’ pandemic of 1918, which killed 600,000 Americans, does not appear to have had much impact in Bristol. The Town Reports for the years beginning February 1917, 1918 and 1919 show 27, 25, and 29 deaths respectively. Bristol’s villages were more isolated then.

What’s open, what’s not

The Bristol Town Office is closed to walk-in traffic during this emergency. We continue to assist residents by phone and email, and the Code Enforcement Officer meets people by appointment. Most Bureau of Motor Vehicles transactions can be completed online, as can fishing and hunting permits, boat registrations, dog licenses and fire permits. See the Town’s web site for details:

The Bristol / South Bristol Transfer Station is open during its normal hours but to limit personal contact, staff are not sorting materials in the recycling bay. Residents may take their recyclables directly to the large green shipping containers (labeled by type of material), or for now can deposit them with their household waste.

Bristol Consolidated School, like all Maine schools, is closed – initially through March 29th. Sadly they had to cancel the annual Diversity Week presentation / performance, on Friday March 13th – this year’s learning week was focused on Maine’s Native American heritage. The School is making arrangements to supply school lunches to all students who want them. Half our children are eligible for free school lunches.

Speaking of Native Americans, coincidentally, a little distance from the School members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe are waiting for the opening of the elver fishing season on March 21st. The Town Landing at Pemaquid Falls is a favorite elver harvesting spot. They are camping overnight at the Pemaquid Mill parking lot, thanks to the Coastal Rivers Conservation Trust, and the Town is supplying port-a-potties and trash removal. I can say from personal experience that they are some of the tidiest and most friendly campers you can imagine, and one neighbor – initially fearful of the campers – is now baking them pound cake!

An unusual Town Meeting

Bristol operates on a January to December fiscal year, except for the School which operates on a July to June year to match the academic calendar. Both the Town and School budgets are voted at Town meeting in March, with an annual provision that the town can continue to spend up to 3/12ths of its budget in the following year until Town meeting is held.

This year, we faced a dilemma: do we hold the open Town Meeting, and possibly endanger people’s health by spreading the virus, or do we run out of funding authorization and have to shut down such essential services as Bristol Fire and Rescue, the Transfer Station, or our share of Central Lincoln County Ambulance?

Selectmen chose a novel (and successful) option. Happily all the Warrant Articles for the operating budgets of the Town, School, Parks, Fire, Transfer Station and Ambulance Service had received unanimous recommendations from the (often feisty) Budget Committee. Several other items, though, did not: at least some people wished to debate Articles such as those covering the Bristol Mills fish ladder, a proposal for pedestrian and bicycle trails from the Byways Committee, a line of credit for the Parks Department, and so on.

The Select Board therefore let it be known that the Open Town Meeting would be held in two parts. Tuesday March 17 would deal with all the routine and the unanimously-recommended Articles in one combined Motion, and the remainder would be tabled until later. People in vulnerable categories – older residents and those with health problems – were advised not to come. Chairman Chad Hanna appealed for understanding and support from the two dozen people who did show up, and promised full debate on the remaining questions when it is safe to do so. The session lasted just 13 minutes, with 55 Articles unanimously voted as one Motion, which must be a record. It then recessed until June 16th. Extraordinary measures for extraordinary times.

The eight Articles tabled until June 16th cover the following subjects:

  • Bicycle, Pedestrian and Road Safety Improvements
  • Solar Array Capital Reserve
  • Bristol Mills Dam Repair
  • Bristol Mills new Fish Ladder
  • Policy on Chemical Pesticides (citizen-initiated petition)
  • Maine Bicentennial and Olde Bristol Days
  • Line of Credit for the Parks Department
  • Grants to Non-Profit Service Agencies (nine requests, to be voted separately)

If it safe to meet then, the Town Meeting will continue in the School gym at 7 pm. If not, Selectmen and the Moderator will meet and Recess the meeting again.

The Town also held its regular election, on Monday March 16th at the Bristol Mills Fire House. 180 people stopped by to vote for the unopposed re-election of Selectboard Chair Chad Hanna, Darin Carlucci to the School Board, Laurie Mahan to the Parks Commission, and Patricia Jennings and Ben Pendleton to the Planning Board.

Taking care of Neighbors

In Bristol, people look out for each other. For older residents and those with health problems, the recommendation to stay at home and avoid public contact is important – but isolation can be as lethal as any virus. For people living alone and without regular social interactions, depression and related substance abuse, poor nutrition, inability to access primary health care, and such common events as falls in the home are all killers. Now more than ever it is important to check up on your neighbors. Just use sensible precautions when visiting them.

Bristol Fire and Rescue keeps a list of people on whom they make welfare checks in circumstances such as major storms and power outages. They expect to also make checks on people occasionally during this “civil emergency.” If you have a friend or neighbor whom you think should be on this list, please send (in confidence) an email to Chief Paul Leeman: [email protected].

What are those bright orange signs at the end of my road?

You will see ‘Heavy Loads Limited’ signs posted on most Town-maintained roads during March and usually through April. With this year’s early spring (so far – fingers crossed) it is possible they may come down by the middle of April.

The ground heaves caused by the freeze-and-thaw cycle in March and April can cause havoc with the Town’s roads, both paved and gravel. The weight limit of 23,000 lbs. we enforce during the spring is a standard used by most municipalities in Maine, and is generally recognized and accepted by contractors and truckers. Excepted from the limit are, of course, emergency vehicles and fuel trucks.

If you are having work done on your property and need access for a heavy vehicle across a posted road during this time, have your contractor call the Town Office and ask for a permit. We will check the weather forecast and can often permit a morning delivery time when a cold frost overnight will keep the road hard until mid-morning.

Broadband Committee Report

The shut-down of Schools in Maine has clearly shown the dilemma of not having broadband internet service to around a third of Bristol’s roads. It makes it impossible to switch to fully online teaching during the school shutdown, which Lincoln Academy and Bristol Consolidated School would have liked to do. 

In April and May the volunteers of the Broadband Committee are surveying Bristol’s internet availability (by cable, land line or cell telephone) and are working with Tidewater Telecom for a ConnectME grant to put fiber in front of every home in Bristol. If you would like to help them, or better yet join the committee, please email Phil Congdon: [email protected]

One final request: fill out the Broadband Committee’s survey by clicking HERE.

Town Report for 2019

The Town Report can be downloaded by clicking HERE.

...or hard copies can be picked up from the Town Office and the Ellingwood Information Center. This year’s Report is dedicated to the late Gordon Benner, Bristol Parks Commissioner from 2001 to 2016, who passed away in 2019.

For more information on any of the matters touched on in this report, please email Chris Hall at [email protected]. Thank you for reading!