Harpswell gets range of options for Mitchell Field pier

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HARPSWELL — The Mitchell Field Committee presented a wide range of designs for a new pier Monday, but the public seemed to want more information before a favorite is picked.

The committee recommended that the town demolish the existing pier, a structurally unsafe holdover from a former U.S. Navy fuel depot built in the 1950s, and has been gauging community interest in a replacement through workshops and surveys since summer. 

In October, the panel held a workshop where the project engineer was asked to consider a range of options, spanning from a large-scale commercial structure to no pier at all.

That input informed five designs that escalated in their capacity for waterfront amenities and capabilities, and which engineer Barney Baker said would be further modified going forward.

All options would include removing the corroded pier, but keeping the causeway, which Baker said is “for all intents and purposes, in great condition” because it is made of natural materials such as granite.

The simplest design would clean up the existing waterfront around the causeway, and provide no waterfront amenities. Mitchell Field has 2,630 feet of shoreline, and a beach on the southern side of the causeway that is accessible to swimmers.

From there, Baker proposed the option for an observation deck, which would not be open to boaters, but extend over deep waters for those interested in fishing.

The observation deck, either as a standalone option or a supplement to a more elaborate pier, garnered some enthusiasm from at least one member of the crowd, as well as Town Planner Mark Eyerman.

“In terms of fishing access – a being-over-the-water kind of experience – I don’t think (that) exists in town,” Eyerman said, noting that most recreational fishermen seeking deep-water access are forced to fish off the Cribstone and Mountain Road bridges.

Baker then presented two other options: a larger, multi-use pier with the potential to segregate recreational and commercial uses, and a full-scale commercial pier that would support large trucks and buildings on the causeway and ramp.

Baker also proposed the idea of a seasonal float, which wouldn’t be an actual pier, but a water-based structure to be used by small recreational and commercial boats.

“It’s important to point out that you can combine all these facilities,” Baker said, referring to each waterfront amenity as a “building block” that could be added or removed.

The Mitchell Field Committee previously recommended the town build a $330,00 boat launch north of the pier’s causeway, which Chairwoman Jane Covey indicated Monday is an issue the committee has already “wrapped up.” Baker included the plans for the boat launch in his presentation, but that does not necessarily mean the town will decide to build it.

The proposed preliminary designs did not include cost projections, but Baker said he knew of grants that could fund recreational and commercial waterfront projects. “Those uses will attract funding dollars,” he said.

Baker offered examples of other municipal piers in the state during the October workshop, the costs of which ranged from $250,000 to $450,000. Nearly every example was aided by grant funding.

Substantially fewer members of the public attended Monday’s workshop than the meeting in October, but those who did express opinions wondered if more market research is necessary. 

One member of the public also referred to “the elephant in the room” – a Maine-based company that has expressed an interest in building a salmon farm north of the pier’s causeway, and indicated in a letter to selectmen that it may have a possible use for a commercial pier.

Covey said in an email Tuesday that the panel will look at more than 100 responses to a survey they developed in order to determine what kind of demand there is for waterfront access.

According to Covey, the committee has already contemplated one of the bigger concerns raised Monday night: whether waterfront amenities will generate revenue and offset operating costs. Baker said supplying moorings would be the most obvious source of income for the town.

Another workshop is expected in late January, when the committee will present a customized and refined design proposal based on further meetings with Baker.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

The pier at Mitchell Field in Harpswell, built in the 1950s to pipe fuel to Brunswick Naval Air Station, is rapidly deteriorating and on the brink of collapse.

Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.