January 2

Hallowell’s new mayor calls downtown road reconstruction a ‘game-changer’ in inaugural address

Attorney Mark Walker, an ex-city council president, is sworn in to replace Charlotte Warren, the mayor since 2009.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

HALLOWELL — Calling future reconstruction of the city’s main thoroughfare a “game-changer” in his Thursday inaugural address, Mayor Mark Walker said he’ll be appointing a committee focused on mitigating the short-term impact of the project.

Walker, a former city council president and attorney from Water Street who was unopposed on the November ballot, was sworn in as mayor Thursday, taking over the seat from Charlotte Warren, the mayor since 2010 and a councilor before then.

Two new city councilors were also sworn in: George Lapointe, a former state marine resources commissioner from Middle Street, took over an at-large seat on the council most recently held by David Bustin, a former mayor, and Lynn Irish of Second Street, a downtown business owner, assumed Walker’s old seat in Ward 2, largely in the city’s north end.

Walker’s speech was long on thank-yous and praise of the city, but Walker touched briefly on many of the long- and short-term issues the city has recently grappled with, including the state’s maintenance of the Stevens School complex off Winthrop Street and the future of the dated fire station on Second Street.

But chief among Hallowell’s issues is the state’s likely and looming reconstruction of Water Street, a project that won’t happen until 2016, when funding becomes available.

State and city officials, along with business owners, are virtually in agreement that the street, with an exaggerated crown and antiquated water and sewer lines beneath, needs an overhaul.

After the state said rebuilding the road from Maple Street, near the Farmingdale line, to the Augusta line would likely take two full construction seasons, the city council voted in December to limit any future project to the quarter-mile stretch of road between Temple and Winthrop streets — the main part of Hallowell’s downtown.

Councilors still must decide on the scope of the project. Road work would come at no cost to the city, but Hallowell officials would be able to decide on and pay for additional improvements. Councilor Alan Stearns, chairman of the city’s Highway Committee, has said the project will likely take between five and six months.

The project is a concern for downtown business owners. In September, Ruth Lachance, the owner of Boynton’s Market, said if the street was closed for more than three or four weeks, “we’d probably be out of business.”

But Walker took the project in stride, appointing a Downtown Development Committee, completely made up of private residents, to focus on the rebuilding project, working to ensure plentiful public input and notice, maximize benefits of the project and reduce downtown disruption during the project.

Lachance was one of seven people named to the committee along with Chris Vallee, a real estate agent who lives and works out of his building at the corner of Water and Winthrop streets.

“In the next three to four years, decisions and actions may occur in downtown Hallowell that may be the biggest ones we’ve made in decades,” Walker said. “Reconstruction of Water Street is a true game-changer.”

Before his speech, Walker appointed Robert Stubbs, a former mayor and state legislator from Pleasant Street, to replace Jed Wartman as city councilor from Ward 1 in the city’s northwest. Wartman resigned in December, less than a year into his first council term.

Mayors and councilors serve two-year terms in Hallowell. Councilors are paid $1,000 annually; the mayor is paid $1,600.

In other business, the city council elected Councilor Phillip Lindley of Union Street to serve as its president, who sits in for the mayor during absences.

Walker also announced he and mutual friends of Warren were setting up a private scholarship fund in her name to assist women who need assistance in attending Emerge Maine, which trains female Democrats to run for office.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652mshepherd@centralmaine.comTwitter: @mikeshepherdme@mikeshepherdme

 

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