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Testimony to Old Town City Council April 18, 2023

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Council President McLeod and members of the Old Town City Council,

My name is Jim Mitchell and I am a resident of Old Town, living on what is called French Island. Thank you for allowing me to speak with you. I am here today to request that the council approves a motion to put ongoing litigation on hold and allow for a collaborative resolution of the Lot 189 issue.

I am not here to hash over past issues regarding the property on French Island. Discussion about this piece of land has been ongoing since 1993 and is well documented. Since this dialogue has spanned such a long period of time, I can’t expect everyone to remember all the details involved. A website, frenchisland.me, contains links to all the documents, relevant council meetings, and articles from the Bangor Daily News; all of which you can access if you want. Everything I will be saying tonight is backed by facts that are publicly accessible.

I want to apologize to all citizens of Old Town that we are even in this adversarial situation. I never wanted to involve lawyers and the court system to settle an issue that lends itself to a dialogue-based resolution.

I also want to apologize to you Councilors for changing what I am about to say from the text that was in your packet. This past Friday we received news that there has been a hearing scheduled for May 11th in the Superior Court. This is good news for us, and it makes the motion we present all the more relevant.

Finally, I want to apologize for my remark to Councilor Folster the last time I addressed you regarding the location of the sewer line. It turns out that the map you were looking at is out of date and that there is an updated map. Neither of us knew that when we had that exchange.

Now is the time to put personal issues and miscommunication behind us and to focus on the common good.

Since a court date has been scheduled, this is the last opportunity we have to resolve this issue in a collaborative way. I have publicly encouraged us to use discussion rather than litigation in the Bangor Daily News in February of 2020. I want to emphasize again that I feel we should be partners in this process, but the litigation creates this adversarial condition.

Those of us who have land contiguous to Lot 189 have always maintained we are willing to accept an increase in taxes that will result from extending our property lines to the river. It will not be much of our city budget, but it would certainly be an additional income for the city. You are tasked with coming up with a budget proposal to be sent to voters for approval. For that budget, this motion will result in an income for the city, rather than an expense as it is now.

The City should be a partner with us in securing title to this abandoned land. The city has just as much right to claim a quiet title to expand the land on which the sewer pumping (Lot 196)sewer pumping station is located as I have to claim a quiet title to the land I have improved for the last 40 years. We, the landowners, and you, the City should be partners in settling the disposition of this abandoned land by claiming it under the legal process of a quiet title as established by the State of Maine.

There is another cost of this litigation. A lawsuit between citizens and our governing bodies says to the world that we can not resolve disputes by reasonable discussion. Other Mainers have seen the example we set when we come together to face challenges such as redefining ourselves as we face changing economic patterns. Working together in a transparent manner not only saves time and resources but also strengthens our community bonds and promotes trust.

A similar situation occurred in Camden at about the same time. The city wanted to extend a walkway to a park that required 123 square feet of land be purchased from a landowner. After months of negotiation, the city decided that it might have to present a referendum to the town residents to approve the use of eminent domain. The main point I want to make is that the use of eminent domain should only be considered after full and open discussion with all parties involved in the process.

Unfortunately, the City Council action of condemnation and seizure of Lot 189 was based on incorrect legal advice, namely that no public notice was required and that the deed for the land did not exist. What happened in August of 2019 broke the trust between us and resulted in the litigation process that is about to come before the court. But we still have time to focus on the common good.

This is why I ask you to allow us to sit down with City Manager Mayo and come up with a plan for the resolution of the Lot 189 issue. Mr. Mayo has already stated that he is willing to do this as long as adequate assurance for access to sewer lines was part of the plan. However, as it stands, the plan is to wait until the litigation is complete. I urge the committee to consider the benefits of collaboration and approve the motion to put ongoing litigation on hold, allowing us to work together to find a just resolution to the Lot 189 issue that benefits everyone involved.

Proposed motion:

Be it resolved that legal actions regarding Lot 189 be temporarily ceased until a plan of action for the dissolution of this land be presented to the City Council. The City Manager is asked to craft this plan by working with concerned citizens who own contiguous land to this property. The plan should be available for consideration within two months of the passing of this motion.

Thank you for allowing me to address you tonight.