ALFRED, Maine – Those speaking at a pair of public hearings on York County Maine Government’s proposal to build a first responder training center and a substance use recovery had questions as well as comments about the proposals.
The November 27 public hearings were hosted by Alfred Planning Board as part of the county’s application process and held at the York County Court House for space reasons. More than two dozen members of the public attended. There were 14 submitted comments submitted, said Planning Board Chair Andrew Bors.
While there were those speaking in favor of both projects, some expressed reservations about the proposed recovery center and others had questions about the impact of the projects on traffic along Route 4, noise, and the availability of water and the ability of existing public water lines to handle the volume. The buildings are proposed to be off Layman Way.
The next step in the process is a review of the proposals, poised to begin at 6:30 p.m. January 8 at Alfred Town Hall.
The First Responder Training Center would provide instruction for police, fire, emergency medical personnel, corrections, and emergency management. Those in the industries say training, provided close to home, will help recruit and retain employees at a time when agencies are having difficulty filling vacancies. There would be five full-time employees.
The recovery center seemed to draw the most comment and was taken up after the public hearing on the first responder training center.
The Substance Use Recovery Center is proposed to have 8 drug and alcohol detox beds, 16 short term beds, 16 mid-term beds and 10 long -term beds. As well, there would be eight observation beds where a police officer could drop off someone looking for help after hours and then be assessed the following day, said York County Manager Greg Zinser. He estimated 80 people would be employed there. There would be group education and counseling for residents, exercise, gardening, and more – exposure on how to manage life without alcohol or drugs. There would be support for family members and more.
The substance use recovery center is intended primarily for residents of York County, Zinser said in a response to Tony Palminteri, an Alfred selectman who spoke as a resident.
Resident Nicky Cyr asked if residents would be able to come and go as they pleased.
Zinser said those in recovery are at the facility voluntarily, because they want to be there. He said someone may choose to leave and if that is a concern, a condition could be made that the individual not leave on foot.
York County District Attorney Kathryn Slattery addressed the Planning Board.
“In approving the recovery center this board would make the single largest contribution to community safety and recovery I have seen in my 35-plus years serving the citizens of York County,” Slattery said. “The Town of Alfred has the opportunity to be the hero in this seemingly unending battle.” Slattery said the need is compelling amid the recovery center “is a viable solution which, uniquely, will treat the entire spectrum of needs.”
Torie Arsenault said she’s been in long term recovery for nearly a decade and works as a recovery program coordinator. She said her former job as an outreach worker was to get people into recovery and noted that is difficult to accomplish because of a lack of beds. She said she wants people to be able to have the opportunity to recover, “like I did.”
A contingent of police chiefs from various municipal departments across the county attended, as did York Couty Sheriff Bill King.
Alfred resident Donna Ring, a York County Commissioner, said recovery is more cost effective than incarceration – she estimated the residential recovery program will cost $55 a day, while jail cost is $126 per day.
In a written comment, resident Gladys Demers said she opposed the recovery facility and felt there were enough programs around to help and expressed concern about her well and about traffic.
Resident Craig Andersen, who is police chief in nearby Sanford, also submitted comment.
“Some of you may not know Alfred has a drug problem,” he wrote. “Substance abuse and mental health do not recognize town lines.” He said the training center and the recovery center are both “needed and necessary.”
The training center project also drew comment.
“I think it’s a great project, definitely needed,” said Route 4 resident Sheila Paquin of the training center, which would be near her home. She expressed concern about noise, potential impact on her water well, and increased traffic she believes could make it difficult for her family to leave their driveway - which she said is already an issue because of the volume of traffic along Route 4. She expressed support for looking at a second means of egress for those accessing the two projects.
Resident Jill Folsom asked if firefighting foam would be used, and what would be used in the burn training tower planned for the site. She noted the proximity of ponds and lakes, including one that she believes is used as part of the public water supply.
Zinser said no chemicals would be used, and that hay and pallets would be used to set small training fires in the tower, used primarily to create smoke.
Together, the facilities are expected to generate about 180 road trips at peak morning and afternoon hours, design engineer Wade Lippert told those gathered.
Attorney Jim Katsiaficas, representing Alfred Water District, said the district does not oppose either the recovery center or the training center but expressed concern about 1,200 feet of eight-inch water main constructed in 1970 that that water district believes ought to be upgraded to 12 inches. He said an upgrade would ensure enough water supply to fight fires and support the new facilities, which would use a total of about 10,000 gallons a day.
There was some discussion on the need for an upgrade and who would pay for it, if it is required.
The recovery center and the first responder training center will be funded with about $30 million of money the county received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act and through congressionally directed funding. Additionally, the recovery center will use opioid settlement funds, and some county funds for the building project and rely largely on MaineCare funds for operational costs.
The Alfred Planning Board will contemplate asking for a third-party review of the applications.
Zinser was upbeat about the public hearings.
“I heard more for (the projects) than against – that’s positive,” he said.
PUBLIC HEARING A: More than two dozen people from Alfred and beyond attended an Alfred Planning Board public hearing Nov. 27 on York County’s proposed first responder training center and separate substance use recovery center.
TORIE ARSENAULT PUBLIC HEARING: Torie Arsenault, who said she is in long term recovery and who works as a recovery program coordinator spoke at an Alfred Planning Board public hearing Nov. 27.
ZINSER AND PLANNING BOARD: York County Manager Greg Zinser spoke to the audience gathered for a public hearing conducted by the Alfred Planning Board Nov. 27 on two county projects – a recovery center and first responder training center.