The Portland City Council will meet in person in City Hall for the first time in two years on March 21 as it pilots a hybrid meeting system that will also allow residents to continue to participate from home.
The council had hoped to return to in-person meetings after new councilors were sworn in last December, but the omicron wave of the coronavirus forced a delay. Councilors had also been set to return to City Hall last summer, before the delta variant surge.
Interim City Manager Danielle West on Monday said there is still a “logistical dance” for the city to do in figuring out the return to Council Chambers, which is why March 21 will be a trial run.
The city is using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to buy equipment to produce the meetings, where councilors will meet in person while residents could choose to attend or watch and participate from home.
West said there have been supply-chain problems, and the equipment the city needs has “had some issues in arriving.” In a memo to the council, she said the equipment may take up to five months to arrive. In the meantime, the city is working on temporary fixes that are expected to be ready by March 21.
West said a challenge to bringing people back is the availability of rooms in City Hall and the equipment needed to run hybrid meetings, given the large number of City Council committees and other boards. Without the necessary equipment, West said only Council Chambers will be able to provide hybrid meetings and have sufficient space.
After March 21, she said, city staff will evaluate how the meeting went and determine a timeline for rolling out hybrid meetings for other boards and committees.
Because the council has not met in person since March 2020 and two elections have been held since that time, the March 21 meeting will be the first time many city councilors will be part of an in-person meeting.
The city is also not ruling out a return to remote meetings. West said the mayor or a committee chairperson could declare an emergency, which is broadly defined and would allow that body to meet remotely as needed.
Prior to the pandemic, legislative bodies in Maine were only allowed to meet in person. During the pandemic, however, Gov. Janet Mills signed legislation to allow municipalities to offer remote meetings.
Portland OKs deal for EV charging stations
Nearly 50 electric vehicle charging stations will be installed in Portland at no cost to the city through a plan approved Monday night by the City Council.
Troy Moon, the city’s sustainability director, said the city reached an agreement with EVgo Services, a national charging station company, for four DC fast-charging stations – which take less than an hour to restore most of an electric vehicle’s charge – and up to 44 Level 2 charging stations, which take several hours to restore a charge.
A city spokesperson said the agreement allows EVgo to charge users a “commercially reasonable fee” for charging.
Moon said the city has been working on the project for several years as part of the One Climate Future plan, a joint project between Portland and South Portland to reduce each city’s carbon footprint. Installing more EV charging stations around the city is a major component of the plan.
Two of the fast-charging stations will be on Commercial Street, and two will be in the municipal parking lot at the corner of Spring and High streets.
Moon said the city’s plan is to have the level two stations spread throughout the city, but mostly around the peninsula where renters live in apartments.
For example, he said Portland Public Schools has agreed to place stations at Reiche Elementary School and the East End Community School, which would only be available to the public when schools are not in session.
Moon said this would allow neighbors to charge their vehicles overnight at these locations and return for them before the school day starts.
He said the city has also identified a spot for a charging station in the Deering Oaks Park parking lot.
The buildout is expected to begin this spring, with all the charging hubs identified and installed over the next 18 months.
EVgo will own, operate, and maintain these chargers for a 10-year period.
— Colin Ellis
Park near USM gets name change
The Portland City Council on Monday unanimously approved changing the name of a small piece of land near the University of Southern Maine from Bedford Park to Noyes Park.
The move concluded a process that took more than four months while action was postponed twice to allow more research into the history of the property at the corner of Bedford Street and Deering Avenue.
City staff first brought the proposal to the council on Nov. 1, 2021, after the Noyes family requested the change. The park was originally named Noyes Park in the 1920s, but it mistakenly became known as Bedford Park during the 1950s, staff said.
Councilors, however, asked for more research, including on the Battle of Deering Oaks, a pre-1700s battle between settlers and Native Americans, to see if the park had been involved.
After consulting with local historians and Indigenous leaders, staff confirmed the park was part of the Battle of Deering Oaks, which also included areas around Deering Oaks, Back Cove, India Street, and Munjoy Hill.
As a result, the city will create interpretive signs for the park to depict Indigenous settlement.
Mayor Kate Snyder said the council has the authority to name and rename parks, which is why she was comfortable allowing the park to officially be named Noyes Park. She said there was confusion through the years over the true name of the park, but said staff’s research showed it was known as Noyes Park before becoming known as Bedford Park.
Councilor Mark Dion said he was not convinced the research was conclusive and supported keeping the Bedford Park name, although he would not stand in the way of a unanimous vote.
“I think the history is clouded at best,” Dion said.
— Colin Ellis