Harpswell petition buys time for Mitchell Field water tower

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HARPSWELL — The Board of Selectmen will put off a final decision on the Mitchell Field water tower by as much as a year, to give a group of residents time to come up with a plan to repair and use the structure. 

Selectmen earlier said they intended to ask voters at Town Meeting in March if they would like to restore or demolish the water tower.

The tower, a holdover from when Mitchell Field was a U.S. Navy fuel depot, has not been used for 20 years and there are concerns about its safety and how much it would cost to repair.

But David Chipman, who has long argued for keeping the tower, on Feb. 5 presented selectmen with an informal petition bearing 80 signatures from people who said they would like to see an attempt made to save the tower.

Very little effort was put into collecting signatures for the petition, Chipman said. Another group of supporters contacted him after he submitted the petition to the town office, he said, bringing the total number of supporters to 120. 

According to the town clerk’s office, only 52 signers of the original petition were registered Harpswell voters. But Chapman said the response still indicated the depth of public support for saving the tower. 

“I’m not the only nut out there,” Chipman said. “There are other people who want to save it.” 

The 100,000-gallon steel tank provided drinking water for the former fuel depot, but hasn’t been used since the facility closed in 1992. Since then, the interior and exterior coating has worn, exposing the tank and its 100-foot tall tower to corrosion and degradation. 

A report from Atlanta-based Utility Service Group last September noted that leaving the tower empty creates a risk of collapse. USG said it could cost as much as $430,000 to restore the tower to full working condition. 

Chipman told selectmen that through “rudimentary research” he found other companies that said they could do the work for half the amount quoted by USG. 

Instead of removing the tower, the town should look further into whether it could be used to provide water to the neighboring Harpswell Neck Fire and Rescue Department, or for mounting telecommunications equipment.

“There has to be something we can do with that tower,” without tearing it down, Chipman said. 

Selectman Elinor Multer said she is willing to look at more options, but noted that even at half the price, the cost to renovate the tower could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Prolonging a final decision on the tower could also create an unsafe situation as it continues to corrode, Multer noted. 

“I’m not willing, as an individual, to sit by,” and watch the structure deteriorate, Multer said. 

But the town could probably wait another year before it has to “panic” about the water tower’s condition, Chipman said. He suggested setting up a nonprofit group to come up with possible solutions and financing for the project. 

Selectman Kevin Johnson said he is willing to “kick the can down the road,” another year and give Chipman time to come up with options. 

Chairman Rick Daniel also agreed to give Chipman more time, suggesting that the petition is a good place to start finding volunteers for a nonprofit. 

“I think this makes a perfect citizens’ effort,” Daniel said, adding he expects the group to present firm proposals and financing ideas.

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or pmcguire@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter @PeteL_McGuire

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