Amid probes by developers, Harpswell awaits specific proposals for Mitchell Field

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HARPSWELL — With the master plan for the 119-acre Mitchell Field still nearly two years from its full implementation, the town is preparing for the likelihood that businesses inquiries will increase at the former U.S. Navy fuel depot.

The prospect of economic development opportunities has raised the antennae of town leaders, but so far the Board of Selectmen has decided to await specific proposals rather than bite on hypothetical scenarios that could subvert the planning schedule.

The latter has been an issue in the past, most recently in 2007, when East Boothbay shipbuilder Washburn & Doughty Associates, Inc. proposed expanding its tugboat construction business to Mitchell Field. The development died when the company pulled out of lease negotiations with the town amid citizen opposition that appeared to be tracking toward the infamous Liquefied Natural Gas terminal proposal, a flashpoint for residents.

Since then residents have adopted a master plan for Mitchell Field that is still being implemented. 

But last week, Town Administrator Kristi Eiane told the Board of Selectmen that she had been approached by Mathew Eddy of Eaton Peabody about potential businesses that might be interested in locating at Mitchell Field. Eiane said Eddy did not mention specific businesses, however, she said he indicated that some might involve renewable energy, and that some may want to move faster than the master plan’s 2011 completion date.

Eddy, who resigned as Brunswick’s economic development chief in December and is now a consultant for Eaton Peabody, did not return calls or messages seeking comment. 

Eiane also told selectmen that an individual in the renewable energy business had been attending Mitchell Field Implementation Committee meetings. Town Planner Carol Tukey, who Eiane said had spoken with the individual, did not return calls seeking comment. 

Eiane said she wasn’t sure if Eddy represented the interests of a particular business. However, she did say that Eddy indicated that he had contacts with businesses that might consider moving to Mitchell Field. Eiane said  Eddy hoped to meet with the Board of Selectmen to discuss potential opportunities. She said Eddy also indicated that the town’s timetable for the master plan might be too protracted to capture funding opportunities available in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, particularly for renewable energy.

But during their July 30 meeting, board members told Eiane that they were interested in hearing only tangible proposals. Chairman Jim Henderson said the idea behind creating a planning document was not to get derailed by “people promising the world.”

“If someone has a specific proposal and wants to put their thoughts in writing, I think we’d be happy to consider it,” Henderson said.

Selectwoman Elinor Multer agreed, but said she was still willing to have town staff discuss less specific proposals with Eddy.

“I don’t want to throw out the planning process by any stretch of the imagination,” Multer said. “But neither do I want to be so doctrinaire about it. … Let’s find out who’s out there, if somebody really is.”

The town’s policy on economic development procedures requires the Board of Selectmen to disclose the receipt of any formal proposal seeking to lease town-owned property. Informal proposals, either written or oral, must also be disclosed. However, in the event of the latter, the identity of the interested company can be withheld if the selectboard accepts the company’s request for confidentiality.

The town is expected to initiate a request for proposals to hire a planning consultant for the master plan. Full implementation of the plan is scheduled to be complete in March of 2011. If indeed specific proposals come forward, the town could again find itself weighing the benefits of economic development against the planning process. 

“The reality is we’re likely to face a nasty dilemma if someone comes forward who doesn’t want to wait until 2011,” Multer said.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or