News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, September 30, 2021
Castine Voters will not change island names this year
Other items on election warrant passed

by David Avery

No warrant article relating to changing the names of the Negro Islands in Castine will appear on the November ballot. The select board took no action on that topic, though the board did approve the rest of the election warrant for November 2.

“The select board feels it needs more time,” said chairman Gordon MacArthur, referring to the name change issue.

The warrant specifies that one Selectperson/Assessor/Overseer of the Poor will be elected, as will one member of the School Board and one member of the Witherle Memorial Library Board of Trustees.

Select board members MacArthur and Peter Vogell were present for the meeting, while Colin Powell joined by remote connection. The votes were unanimous.

In other more pedestrian matters, the select board named nine people to serve on the newly formed sidewalk committee. That committee is investigating whether and how snow should be removed from sidewalks in Castine. Currently, snow is not removed from sidewalks in winter unless a property owner voluntarily does it.

The sidewalk committee includes Marc Pelletier, Bobby Vagt, Gus Basile, Tom Comiciotto, Karen Cukierski, Bill Lyons, Bob Beske, Johanna Barrett and Diana Bernard.

Islands name change

The reasons for the select board not including the Island Name Change Committee’s recommendation on the November warrant were two-fold.

First, due to an oversight, the town office missed a deadline. State law requires that items to be included on the warrant meet a 60-day lead time. The name change for the Negro Islands did not meet that requirement.

In addition, prior to the meeting, Castine resident Bob Scott circulated a letter among residents asking the select board to slow down the name change process. He garnered 61 names.

The select board felt that letter reflected significant sentiment among the town to slow the process down. The INCC has met weekly since July.

Separately, the Smith and Good families sent a letter to the select board asking for the process to slow down, too. The Smith family owns Upper Negro Island.

Ralph Smith was a member of the INCC and voted against the recommendations made in the committee’s final report. The letter stated, in part, that “what feels more important than expediency is getting the names right.”

The name change process necessarily involves the federal government via the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. Town Manager Shawn Blodgett communicated about the delay with the board and received a reply that “the [US]BGN will wait as long as needed for the Town to submit their recommendation.”

The USBGN also asked that the town rename not just the two islands individually, but specifically mentioned changing the collective name of both of them. They are currently known as the Negro Islands.

The select board may take up the island name change issue at a meeting in the near future, but no date has yet been set.