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HARPSWELL — With the first ceremonial swing of a sledgehammer Dec. 7, a new era was ushered in for Mitchell Field and its longstanding pier.
Nearly two years after the Mitchell Field Committee recommended demolishing the structure, a relic from a former U.S. Navy fuel depot constructed in the 1950s, town staff held a “pierbreaking” to signify the beginning of the demolition process.
The Board of Selectmen’s Nov. 30 award of a demolition contract to Reed & Reed of Woolwich allowed the project to move forward. Chairman Rick Daniel gave a brief speech to town employees and other collaborators on the project before the pierbreaking, highlighting the pier’s history and hopes for the future uses of the site.
“The town of Harpswell hoped maybe we could use it for recreation, business, or other purposes, but as pieces started to fall down it made the rest of us aware of how badly it needed to go,” Daniel said. “May we begin removing the liability of it. We couldn’t be more happy to have Reed & Reed on board to do just that.”
Town staff took turns hitting the pier’s concrete while wearing white construction helmets and protective eyewear.
“For all the frustration,” Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said, before taking her first swing.
Reed & Reed will be in charge of both the marine and onshore work necessary to remove the pier. The contract of slightly less than $3.2 million calls for the project to be completed by June 2019, although the company’s schedule projects the final phase of the process will be complete in September 2018.
Planner Mark Eyerman said he is happy significant progress is finally being made with the demolition, as it has been several years since the town initially received the report that the pier was unsafe.
“This is an absolutely wonderful day,” Eyerman said. “Hopefully in a year it will be gone and we’ll be ready to move on to other things.”
Selectman David Chipman echoed Eyerman and said he is excited to see what can be done at the site once the pier is removed. Chipman said the town has discussed several possibilities over the years, including looking into having Casco Bay Lines run a ferry from Portland to Harpswell.
Last year, the Mitchell Field Committee recommended a boat launch be installed.
“It feels historic; I’ve been involved in this for a long time,” Chipman said. “It clears the way to do so much more here.”
Following the pierbreaking, town staff and first responders held a pre-construction meeting with representatives from all of the companies involved in the initiative, including Pepperell Cove Diving and Ray Labbe, who will be in charge of project management.
The officials discussed logistics of the project, such as job safety on the construction site, securing the area at night, parking for pedestrians during construction and the schedule of how the demolition will progress.
Eyerman said Reed & Reed will begin preparing the site this week and expects to begin demolition in mid-January.
Harpswell Selectman David Chipman takes a whack at the Mitchell Field pier during a “pierbreaking” event Dec. 7.