LePage, MDOT Commissioner talk; Savages get roadside signs
The Black Diamond Steakhouse in Bethel was slated to get four temporary MDOT signs by today (Thursday) to advertise the business until permanent ones can be obtained from the town.
Restaurant owner Rick Savage said Monday that by the order of Gov. Paul LePage, the Maine Department of Transportation had been directed to install four directional signs on state roads in Bethel to point the way to Savage’s Steakhouse on the Sunday River Road.
Savage and his co-owner brother, Ron, have been critical of the timeline for the installation of new permanent signs by the town following the town meeting approval last month of new sign standards.
For the past decade roadside signs on state routes in Bethel have been administered by the town under a memorandum of understanding between MDOT and Bethel. As a result, Bethel is allowed to create an alternative to state standards for roadside directional signage.
According to Ron Savage, after the town vote last month he called the town office to get a permit for a directional sign, but was told the permits hadn’t yet been written.
However, with the summer season underway, Savage said his business couldn’t wait. The brothers put up two of their own temporary signs on Route 2.
Then last week the town filed a civil lawsuit against the Savages, accusing them of multiple violations of the town sign ordinance dating back to March of 2012.
The Savages have acknowledged they posted temporary signs, but denied violating any other municipal sign ordinance.
On Monday the Citizen contacted the governor's office about Savage's statement that LePage had approved state signage, and spokesperson Adrienne Bennett said she would check with MDOT.
On Tuesday MDOT spokesman Ted Talbot called the newspaper. He said that at the direction of MDOT Commissioner David Bernhardt four state signs, approximately 4 feet by 8 inches, would be placed on state routes in Bethel.
They are to be installed near Davis Park; near Mahoosuc Realty on the Parkway; and on Route 2 near the Sunday River Road, he said.
Talbot said Rick Savage has been in touch with MDOT about the signs issue “quite often - and I do mean quite often.”
He said Bernhardt and LePage had discussed the timeframe for the installation of the permanent town signs, “and the commissioner came back and directed us to [install the Black Diamond signs].”
Talbot emphasized the signs are temporary, and MDOT “tries not to impede local ordinances.”
But, he said when asked, the department would be open to requests from other Bethel businesses for temporary signs “as long as they have an eye toward permanent signage. We wouldn’t refuse any conversation.”
(For Ron Savage’s view on the issue, see his Letter to the Editor.)
Bethel Town Manager Jim Doar was asked Tuesday about the state action.
“I just learned this was happening from MDOT today, even though they made the decision on the 3rd,” he said. “We plan on speaking with them Thursday morning and if I have anything to say after that meeting, I will.”
Doar was also asked about the timeline for the installation of new signs.
He said mid-September has been established as the goal. “We set aside part of our process to expedite it,” he said. “The selectmen usually approve bids before they are sent out, but didn’t this time in order to speed up the process.”
Doar said requests for bids from companies to create the signs were due yesterday (Wednesday) and selectmen would choose one at Monday’s selectboard meeting.
“We’re not going to set aside the requirement to go out to bid,” he added.
Doar also said the town had decided to use one manufacturer in order to have consistent signs. That company would have eight weeks to produce the signs - a timeframe two contractors found too short, and as a result opted not to put in a bid, he said.
(Late note: No bids were received Wednesday. Doar said he would talk to selectmen Monday about the situation.)
Doar was asked about the possibility of the town allowing businesses to put up temporary signs until the permanent ones are completed.
That, he said, would go against town ordinance, the state billboard law and the town’s memorandum of understanding with the state.