April 5 meeting

Belfast City Council to discuss McCrum fire, potential police incentives

Mon, 04/04/2022 - 6:45pm

    BELFAST — The Belfast City Council will hold its regularly scheduled public meeting Tuesday, April 5, at 7 p.m. and address an agenda that includes a discussion about the devastating fire at the Penobscot McCrum factory and ways to attract police officers to the Belfast Police Department. Several aspects of the fire are listed on the agenda to be discussed, including the response of emergency personnel, emergency funds for displaced workers, and safely clearing the site down to the gravel base. 

    The early morning fire, which occurred March 24, and the emergency response to the structure fire is described in detail in City Manager Erin Herbig’s report.

    “At approximately 2:30 a.m. on Thursday, March 24th, Fire Chief Patrick Richards and the Belfast Fire and Ambulance Department responded to a structure fire at the Penobscot McCrum facility on the Belfast waterfront. Mutual aid was provided by Belmont, Camden, Northport, Morrill, Liberty, Lincolnville, Searsmont, Searsport, and West Frankfort among others. There were 6 firefighters and first responders on the scene.

    “Waldo County Emergency Management Agency had temporarily advised that Belfast residents within a ¼ mile of Penobscot McCrum shelter in place but that was lifted at around 10 a.m. once it was determined that the fire was under control. The Route 1 Bridge had been closed temporarily during rush hour by emergency crews as smoke was causing a visual impairment to traffic; this too was lifted once the fire was under control. 

    “Due to shifting winds and the proximity of the bus garage to the fire, RSU 71 opted to close school for the day. Additionally, Harbor Hill decided to evacuate the patients and residents of the assisted living facility located on the east side of Belfast; they were brought to Troy Howard Middle School for a brief period of time. 

    “As a safety precaution, the section of the Belfast Rail Trail, from the Penobscot McCrum entrance side to the Upper Bridge parking lot, was barricaded and closed for the immediate future while onsite clean-up occurs. 

    “No ammonia or other chemicals were released during the fire. Some propane tanks were moved out of harm’s way and the relief valves on other tanks were popped so that the propane could burn off. [The] Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) placed booms, or temporary containment barriers, around the edge of the parking lot to absorb and contain oil from the fire site. They also used a boat to monitor runoff from the facility while firefighters put the largest volume of water on the fire. 

    “The Environmental Protection Agency monitored the perimeter of the fire site for hazardous materials including ammonia, oxygen, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and volatile organic compounds. Over the weekend, the EPA safely and slowly released any remaining ammonia, which is used as a refrigerant at the facility, while a water fog was applied to suppress it. 

    “There were no casualties or injuries due in large part to the thoughtful actions of Belfast Fire Chief Patrick Richards, firefighters, and first responders.” 

    Belfast’s Emergency Operations Plan is attached to the manager’s report. 

    Fire Chief Richards, City Manager Herbig, and Waldo County Emergency Medical Management Agency Director Dale Rowley will be available at the meeting to debrief the Council on the incident and answer any questions. 

    A request to accept the Keep the Faith donations and to use the funds for the employees of Penobscot McCrum will also be heard at the meeting. 

    Hannaford gift cards for $100 were placed in the paychecks of 138 employees the same day the fire occurred, with funds taking from the City’s Keep the Faith Fund. Herbig wrote that she “would like to thank Mayor [Sanders] and [the] City Council for their quick leadership on this matter and to request formal authorization of this expense of $13,800,” from the fund. 

    The KTFF was also reactivated by the Council the same day, in an effort to raise additional funds for PM employees. Since the fund was reactivated, the page has raised over $28,000 in donations, according to the report. On March 30, Hannaford donated $25,000 to the KTFF. 

    “In turn, the City of Belfast provided $500 cashier checks in the final paycheck McCrum workers received on Thursday, March 31,” the report notes.

    It is anticipated that the additional funds will help workers bridge the gap between their last paycheck and when they are able to first receive unemployment benefits. 

    A benefit spaghetti dinner hosted by the Steel Guardians Maine Chapter 1 is slated to take place April 15, to raise additional funds for employees impacted by the fire. The SGMC is a club composed of first responders, health care workers and those connected with the military, according to the report. 

    Also on the agenda is a request to waive the Demolition Permit and Shoreland Permit fees for the cleanup of the PM site. 

    It is noted that the McCrum family has received the go ahead from the Maine DEP, EPA, and OSHA to proceed with cleanup. The plan is to “completely clear the property, including the foundation to leave a gravel pad.”

    Another City matter to be considered is the proposal to offer a sign-on bonus and retention incentive program for the Belfast Police Department. 

    “The State of Maine is facing a police officer shortage, and the City of Belfast is no exception,” the report states. Herbig wrote that she has worked with Belfast Interim Police Chief Dean Jackson and [Belfast] officers over the last several weeks with regard to how the City can attract and retain police recruits. The recommendation of Herbig and Jackson are that a new incentive program be created. 

    The proposed program would include a $20,000 sign-on bonus for new police officers “on-boarded” into the department who have more than five years of experience.

    The sign-on bonus would be scaled based on the level of experience. A retention program would include $2,000 retention bonuses for current officers who recruit new hires. Herbig states that once the department is fully staffed, the department will begin offering a four day work schedule to “promote a healthy work-life balance.”

    If approved, Herbig recommends that funds of up to $54,000 needed in this fiscal year to pay for the incentive program. According to the report, $24,000 would be taken from the funds received from the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office for Officer Kyle Masse.

    An additional $32,480, which was received from the City of Brewer for the buyout of former Belfast Officer Mike McFadden, is suggested to cover the outstanding amount. 

    An outline of the proposed sign on bonus and retention incentive program is attached to the report, and Interim Police Chief Jackson and City Manager Herbig will be present at the meeting to answer any questions. 

    Belfast City Council meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. Meetings are conducted online using Zoom and can be streamed on the City of Belfast website. They also air live on BEL TV and on Belfast Community Radio at WBFY 100.9. 

    Comments can also be submitted by emailing the Council during the April 5 meeting. Comments will be presented to the Council.

    An oral comment can also be submitted during the meeting via Zoom webinar. Information for this method can be found on the City website.

    Information and documents related to this meeting are available on the City’s website

    Erica Thoms can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com