2018-01-11 / Letters

Saco’s comp plan needs another look

To the editor:

The Saco Planning Board put together a 2018 City of Saco Comprehensive Plan Update at the request of our city administrator. This plan is usually updated at the beginning of a decade but this was apparently rushed through to give the board a focus on downtown revitalization to attract more millennials and senior citizens to Saco. All Saco residents need to take a careful look at this document before it gets approved by our city council in early 2018. I feel that this plan is extremely onesided in that it does not address the needs of other areas of our city and especially the needs of our low to middle class families with children.

On the first page of the PowerPoint presentation summarizing this updated plan, the planning board acknowledged that “recreation” needs to be a key part of any comprehensive plan. However, the word recreation is never seen again in that document. In the formal 217-page plan update document, the great recreational opportunities of Saco are often mentioned but there are no actions planned to take advantage of these opportunities. As a former auditor for an area manufacturer, I used to search policy documents for any occurrence of what we called “weasel speak.” We coined that phrase to mean any statement that recognizes the existence of a problem but avoids any commitment to resolve the problem. Such weasel speak can be found on page 37 of this document where it reads: “The city should consider creating and improving access to the Saco River at various appropriate locations.” We don’t need Saco to simply “consider” this need for another decade. We would like to see an actual plan to provide us safe and convenient access to our river and while they are at it, our ocean beach. Simply building athletic fields far away from our city center at our former dump does not fulfill the city’s responsibility to provide recreational areas.

And by the way, providing access to the water means little if we and our children cannot safely get in and swim. Not every resident and visitor can provide a canoe or kayak so they and their children can enjoy our river. I raised six children here in Saco and it really annoys me that I had to drive them all the way to Biddeford’s Rotary Park for them to safely swim. We have no problem moving tons of sand to save high end homes on our ocean front because of the construction of the jetty at the mouth of the river. Can’t we spare a few truckloads of sand back up the river where it came from to create safe swimming areas that were destroyed by the construction of the hydro dams in Saco?

So where could we provide recreation which includes a safe swimming area for our children to enjoy? If we study the map on page 4 of this comprehensive plan, it almost seems like the board did some gerrymandering to avoid dealing with a particular area that is so close to the heart of our city. At the lower left side of the map, you will notice that the newly renovated Somesville Bridge to the Market Street area is left out. Doesn’t the planning board realize that this gateway into Saco is bound to grow in importance? More drivers are realizing they can take this bridge to bypass Saco’s Elm Street traffic bottleneck as they try to get from Biddeford city center to Buxton, the turnpike or our industrial park.

I feel that area of our city has long been neglected, especially the Saco city owned Diamond Park. When we took part in the Saco Salmon Restoration Alliance cleanup of that part of the riverbank last summer, we were warned by neighboring residents to beware of hypodermic needles littering the ground tossed there by opioid addicts who frequently use that neglected park. This and many other stories about what goes on in that ignored piece of city property can be confirmed by checking records at our police department. Doesn’t the board realize that with the construction of pedestrian bridges from Saco’s Factory Island, Diamond Park will be within easy walking and biking distance from the Millennial Kingdom we are building on that island? I would think those residents would prefer a full blown park that provides swimming over the little “green spaces” the plan calls for.

This Comprehensive Plan Update needs to go back to the drawing board so it can include the Market Street gateway to our city and Diamond Park where much of the recreational needs of our low to middle class families could be met. I really appreciated all the activities for small children put on by Saco Recreation, Dyer Library and other organizations. But as they grow older, our children should have the ability to grab a towel, get on their bicycles, gather up a few friends and go swimming in a safe area of our river we so often brag about but have no plans to take full advantage of.

Ted Sirois Saco

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