For the second time, the St. George Board of Appeals on February 23 sent a proposal for a ramp and float back to the Planning Board. The Planning Board has denied the ramp/float on a narrow, tidal inlet of Watts Cove several times since July 2016. The Board of Appeals (BOA) has now ordered the Planning Board (PB) to grant the permit. Interesting. Does the BOA really have the statutory power to force the PB to reverse itself? If so, can the PB grant the permit but include objections that will be written into the permanent records? What happens in a town when two boards so clearly disagree with each other?   

At the February 23 meeting, the 40 or so people attending were alert as the BOA tried to keep straight the confusion entailed in hearing two appeals at the same time. The attendees were quiet as the BOA booted about terms like “error of law” and “abuse of discretion” and “misapplication of the ordinance.” At the end, people groaned. Several shouted “wrong.” And, “shame on you, shame on all of you.” People felt that final BOA motion was the last straw. The motion said that evidence given to the PB about disturbance to wildlife was not substantial enough to support the PB denial.  

The shame-on-you was well deserved. The BOA openly struggled to word that final motion because the motion was contrary to evidence. PB records showed they had thoughtfully considered information from Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the Dept. of Environmental Protection, the town’s Natural Resources maps, PB workshops on bird habitats and roosting habitats, and residents who provided two wildlife scientists as well as their own observations of the inlet. In contrast, the applicant had presented one hired scientist who essentially said the birds will adjust. The PB, citing the ordinance, decided there would be adverse impact on “...bird or other wildlife habitat” in this narrow, extremely tidal inlet bordered on one side by a conservation easement and on the other by the town’s Natural Resources designation. The BOA rejected that evidence. Yet BOA members, probably in violation of their own “de novo” prohibitions, burst forth with opinions that duck hunters, clammers, wormers, and “even cars going by” disturbed the wildlife. They described the inlet as a hive of activities.   

A lone BOA member disagreed several times with his colleagues, including on the final motion. His colleagues seemed oblivious and did not ask his reasons. A real loss, because the dissenter offered calm logic in contrast to the often emotional discussion of other members.  

Logic 101 was needed. A BOA member remarked that the PB denial of the ramp/float was a “long, slippery slope” that would lead to denial of all use of waterfront. That member takes a specific decision and then leaps to a much broader general conclusion. An error in logic. A denial for a ramp/float on a specific tidal inlet for specific reasons does not mean that all waterfront uses will be denied. It means that a proposal like the ramp/float on an inlet exactly like this particular inlet could be denied. How many inlets exactly like this one exist in St. George? Very few.   

The spectacle on February 23 might be a “win” for the Board of Appeals but it is certainly an insult to the thoughtful work of the Planning Board, and a loss to the town.

Anita Siegenthaler, Port Clyde