December 10, 2013

Augusta council to discuss downtown safety

With more people living in the heart of the city, council will consider better lighting and security cameras on Thursday.

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — The city might increase security measures downtown, and add amenities to Mill Park, in unrelated proposals up for discussion Thursday by city councilors.

Councilors are also scheduled, at their 6:30 p.m. meeting in council chambers at Augusta City Center, to hear presentations from Summit Natural Gas of Maine and Maine Natural Gas about natural gas safety procedures as the two companies work to bring natural gas to much of the city.

With an increase in the number of residents living in the city’s downtown area and parking their cars there overnight, City Manager William Bridgeo said, security concerns have arisen, which have officials considering enhancing security measures downtown. He said there have been some incidents of vandalism.

Bridgeo said discussions could include making sure there is adequate lighting on Commercial, Water and Front streets and looking into adding security cameras around the city’s parking garage and nearby railroad tracks, where Bridgeo said some vandalism has occurred recently. He said the Augusta Downtown Alliance would be involved in discussions about potential security measures.

“With the very positive addition of new residents downtown, we think it’s prudent to provide for some additional security for their vehicles when parked overnight,” Bridgeo said.

Councilors also are scheduled to hear the recommendations of the Mill Park Advisory Committee, which has been meeting “for the purpose of advising the City Council as to the continued highest and best use of the park and what additional resources are needed to continue with the build out and development of this park,” according to a draft of the committee’s report.

Recommendations for the city-owned riverfront park include:

• Design and build a new parking lot in 2014, using about $272,00 in unspent funds approved for a “parking solution” in a 2001 local referendum.

• Build a concrete slab, both for a skating rink and to accommodate a stage for the performing arts.

• Consider providing public restrooms in the red brick building, the last remaining building from the old Edwards Mill complex, on the upper part of the park, because flood plain issues would make it unlikely the city could build public restrooms on the park’s main level.

• Add gates to prevent vehicles from entering the park grounds.

• Develop a river walk when funds become available.

• Consider funding the installation of playground equipment.

Also, officials from both of the competing gas firms are expected to attend Thursday to present information on natural gas safety procedures to councilors and the public.

“It is an opportunity to educate the public on the systems in place, to make sure, with natural gas infrastructure throughout the city, in the event of any problems or mishaps, that the companies and the city are well prepared to address those concerns,” Bridgeo said.

On Nov. 19, a manhole cover was blown into the air when air leaked from a natural gas line being tested on Arsenal Street. Officials initially weren’t sure which company to alert — both Summit and Maine Natural Gas have been installing gas pipeline in the city — though both companies sent representatives to the scene that night. Ultimately, the line was determined to belong to Summit, which is not yet transporting gas in any of its pipelines in Augusta.

Bridgeo said the two companies are required to provide a plan for a coordinated response to such incidents. Councilors also are scheduled to discuss rezoning part of Riverside Drive, making mid-year budget adjustments, and hear Mary Mayo-Wescott discuss the election process and good citizenship.

Keith Edwards - 621-5647 kedwards@centralmaine.com
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