Rockport Select Board mulls over fiber optic internet, fireworks ordinance

Tue, 01/28/2020 - 12:15pm

    The Rockport Select Board met Jan. 27 and discussed installing a fiber optic cable network throughout the town to provide high speed internet service to Rockport residents for a monthly fee. The board also considered drafting an ordinance to regulate or ban the use of consumer fireworks throughout the town, and heard a report from the Rockport Library Foundation on fundraising efforts for the new Rockport Public Library.

    Town-wide high speed internet

    Referred in the meeting’s agenda as “Broadband Activities,” the board discussed a series of ‘articles’ or educational pieces drafted to appear in VillageSoup by Town Manager Bill Post and Camden Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell, aiming to educate the public about various types of internet connectivity and the benefits of fiber optic internet. The group formed to create the articles is called the “Cheaper, Faster, Better” Ad Hoc Group.

    “In this series we will explore how we might be able to achieve FTTH (Fiber to the Home) in Camden and Rockport and the benefits it would provide in terms of economic development, educational opportunities, telecommuting, support for home-based businesses, healthcare delivered via the internet, attracting younger generations, increasing home values and marketability, and overall ease, convenience and quality of daily living,” reads the first article in the series, titled “Facts about internet fiber.”

    This and the next two articles, “Understanding fiber bandwith (speed)” and “High-speed broadband - what speed do we need?” can be read in the packet from the Jan. 27 meeting on the Town of Rockport website via:

    Also included the draft of a contract between the Town of Rockport and a potential fiber optic internet provider, through which the town would lease internet for a period of 10 years. A theoretical rate schedule for the town-wide internet service would charge residential users $18 per month and commercial users $40 per month.

    “I’ve included the first three [articles] for your information. It’s basically just to educate the public on what broadband and why it’s important and why it’s something that the towns of Camden and Rockport are looking at, and certainly Debra [Hall] can provide additional information as she’s been on that working group,” said Post.

    “The next articles, which are in the course of being drafted, really go to the practical aspects of broadband like ‘tele-health,’ teleworking, telecommuting and education, so there will be about seven articles,” said Select Board Chair Hall.

    Post said that the public education effort through the articles would benefit town officials if and when a survey of residents is conducted to determine how many citizens would support the move to create a town-wide, fiber optic internet network.

    “I was a little bit surprised when the article showed up because it hadn’t really been, in my opinion, vetted by the Select Board and the question is, is the Select Board now saying that we’re sort of in favor of moving ahead with the broadband or are we just educating people? I don’t mean to be a ‘Debbie downer’ because I think it would probably be a good idea, but if we’ve made a policy decision that this is what we’re going to do,” said Select Board member Doug Cole.

    Hall pointed out that months earlier the board had voted in favor of entering into a public education effort regarding the potential internet service upgrades, and that the ‘articles’ were the result of a Camden and Rockport ad hoc group. 

    “The Select Boards prior to us had a definite policy in favor of broadband and bringing broadband for the whole town. And so unless we want to go back and overturn that Select Board decision, then I do think we have a policy that favors broadband,” said Hall, adding that her goal was that the new service could be provided without raising taxes.

    “This board can’t be held to what other boards have done, but I am also on your side when it comes to, if we can get somebody else to foot the bill...because we’ve got many things on our plate and more that are coming,” said boar member Mark Kelley.

    Select Board member Jeff Hamilton pointed out that the board had agreed months prior to undertake a communications information process, and recommended that the board refer to the town’s Comprehensive Plan with regard to instituting a broadband or other technological changes throughout town. No further action was taken on internet upgrades at the meeting.

    Discussion of fireworks ordinance

    The Select Board will consider crafting a warrant article potentially limiting the use of fireworks in Rockport. If that progresses, the article would be placed before residents at on the November ballot this year. The discussion at the board’s Monday night meeting was a continuation of the topic after resident Susan Sinclair came before the board last September and asked that that fireworks be banned in Rockport.

    Rockport currently does not have an ordinance pertaining to fireworks use. Consumer use of fireworks in Rockport is currently regulated under state law, which allows fireworks to be set off between the hours of 9 a.m. and 10 p.m., with exceptions on July 4 and December 31 – on these dates fireworks may be used between 9 a.m. and 12:30 a.m. the following day. 

    Since coming before the board last fall, Sinclair drafted a petition requesting the sale and use of fireworks by consumers be banned, and gathered 124 signatures from registered voters. The petition cited distress to children, pets and those suffering from post traumatic stress as contributing factors to the proposed ban. Town Manager Bill Post said that because the petition was not worded properly, and it did not receive 20 percent of registered voter signatures (around 180), the petition was not valid and did not require action on the part of the Select Board.

    Post said that he researched fireworks ordinances in surrounding towns, and found that while Union and Hope do not have any restrictions placed on fireworks, Camden, Rockland, and Belfast have have each prohibited their use by consumers; instead, the three towns allow licensed displays at public events such as July 4 and Dec. 31.

    Lincolnville’s fireworks ordinance has specific rules regarding fire danger days and prohibits their use on town-owned property, he said.

    “I’m not saying that we necessarily need an ordinance, but how about we use our Fire Chief’s [Jason Peasley] ability to help [Post] come up with something like the other towns have,” said Kelley, adding that a fine for the illegal use of fireworks be substantial enough to cover the time and effort on the part of responding departments.

    Hamilton said that a ballot question might ask voters whether or not they sought to ban the consumer use of fireworks, but added that in light of other projects happening throughout the town, drafting an ordinance was not a top priority.

    “I would be in favor of the voters determining whether they want to ban it or not, but to be honest with you it’s not on my ‘short list’ of things to do right off. It’s a  ‘some day’ thing and it would be done with the minimum amount of effort,” said Hamilton.

    Post said that if the board posed the question, ‘are you in favor of banning fireworks’ to voters, their response would stand and it wouldn’t be necessary to draft an ordinance. He said he would bring wording for a potential ballot question to the board at a future meeting.

    Library Foundation update

    Joan Welsh, who serves as President of the Rockport Library Foundation, informed the board Jan. 28 that the foundation had met their fundraising goal of $2 million. The Rockport Library Foundation (RLF) is a group of volunteers tasked with $2 million for the construction of the library ($1.5 million of the project is paid through bond funds authorized by Rockport taxpayers.) 

    “We have met our goal, in fact we’ve surpassed it by a little. We’ve raised $2 million, we’ve got the money to build the library. It won’t all come in this year, but the end of this year, the end of next year, we should be good,” said Welsh.

    She said that some 300 donors contributed to the fundraising, and that a $200,000 donation was matched by a donation of over $300,000. 

    “The board has agreed that we will stretch a little more one more time - although we do want the [RLF] to continue to over the years to help support the library in smaller ways - we do want to help the Town raise the money for the furniture that’s going to be needed for the library so when it does open everything will look beautiful and people will feel excited about being in that wonderful space.”

    Welsh said the group has a rough estimate of $250,000 for the cost of furnishing and fixtures, and that the foundation plans to hold another matching-grant challenge. The Rockport Public Library is expected to open late August, early September of this year.