BRUNSWICK — Town officials say the agency redeveloping Brunswick Naval Air Station reneged on a 3-year-old deal for recreational fields when it agreed to turn them over to Southern Maine Community College last week.
During its May 18 board meeting, the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority announced it was altering the college’s no-cost property request to include two tennis courts and a softball field adjacent to SMMC’s planned campus.
But town officials say the new deal caught them by surprise.
According to Town Manager Gary Brown, the town was told in 2007 that it would be given control of the fields if they weren’t suitable for redevelopment. Further, Brown said, if the properties could be developed, the agreement stipulated that the town would be compensated by the new property owner to help pay for recreational fields elsewhere on the base.
Brown said the deal was part of a compromise struck between town officials and members of Brunswick Local Redevelopment Authority, MRRA’s predecessor. At the time, he said, redevelopment officials were reluctant to support the town’s request for most of the base’s recreational fields because the fields were in an areas deemed prime for commercial development.
The compromise, Brown said, included giving the town control over the fields until the properties were developed.
BLRA meeting minutes from 2007 don’t lay out the compromise in detail. However, documents from that time show that redevelopment officials were prepared to give the town 65 acres for recreational fields at an undetermined location.
The documents also indicate that the authority wanted to retain ownership of the existing fields so they could possibly be sold or used for development — options that would cease to exist if ownership is surrendered to SMMC.
Steve Levesque, executive director of MRRA, said the deal with SMMC ensures that the fields are made available to the town and the public.
“All we said (in 2007) was that we’d make sure the fields were open to the public,” Levesque said. “There was no specific guidance on implementation.”
In a May 24 letter to Brown, Levesque said the BLRA rejected the town’s initial request for recreational facilities because they were scattered throughout the base and would “not be conducive to effective redevelopment.”
Additionally, he wrote, some of the fields might be encumbered by environmental issues.
But it’s unclear how SMCC’s ownership of the fields would resolve those issues, or how MRRA could redevelop the properties if the public benefit conveyance stripped MRRA of its control.
Nonetheless, Levesque said the agency is open to allowing the town to manage the fields near SMCC’s planned campus. This, he said, would be accomplished through a lease deal after the U.S. Navy turns over the property.
“We can’t just give them to the town,” he said, adding that Brunswick is already slated to receive about 1,100 acres in base property for conservation and recreational purposes.
Also in question is the town’s willingness to manage base properties during a difficult economic period that’s requiring it to reduce, not add, municipal employees.
“That’s a conversation we have to have with the (Town Council),” Brown said.
In the meantime, MRRA officials are expected to meet with town representatives on June 8 to discuss the fields dispute.
Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org