HARPSWELL — Selectmen have decided not to send Town Meeting a warrant article to preserve the aging water tower at Mitchell Field.
Instead, an article designating $22,000 for the tower’s demolition will be put to voters March 12.
Some residents, however, wish it were the opposite.
Basin Point Road resident David Chipman, who is also chairman of the Planning Board, approached selectmen at their Jan. 28 meeting to ask for an option at Town Meeting to put $22,000 toward preserving the structure, and creating a fund to collect private donations to help cover restoration costs.
Selectmen last year intended to send an article to 2015 Town Meeting to destroy the water tower, after a report pegged the costs of restoring it at more than $400,000. But that was delayed after Chipman circulated an informal petition against the plan and gathered about 120 signatures.
Chipman resubmitted the signatures again before the selectmen’s Feb. 11 meeting.
“There are a few folks running around town saying it will cost too much to repair and operate (the tower),” he wrote in a Feb. 10 email. “There are also a great number of people who would like to keep the tower and see no reason why it can’t be put to use.”
Chipman pointed to future development at Mitchell Field and the nearby Harpswell Community Garden as potential uses for a rehabilitated, working water tower.
He also said it could be used to mount wireless communications infrastructure.
The 100-foot tower has not been used since the U.S. Navy left its fuel depot at Mitchell Field in 1992. Originally used for drinking water, the 100,000-gallon tank now sits empty, making it vulnerable to destruction in extreme weather, according to a report prepared for the town by the Atlanta-based Utility Service Group.
That report estimated the cost of restoring interior and exterior wear to be more than $430,000.
Chipman and a group of residents loosely organized as “Friends of the Water Tower” want this year’s Town Meeting to direct the $22,000 slated for destroying the structure into a town fund that could also collect private donations towards restoration.
“There are proposals in the works along with the costs,” Chipman wrote in a note attached to the recycled petition.
But selectmen were not swayed.
“Without any suggestion as to what would be done with it, and how, and how much, … I would not be inclined to support this going to Town Meeting,” board Chairman Rick Daniel said.
Selectman Elinor Multer agreed.
“If the public shares the feeling expressed in this request we’re looking at, it can vote down the article we are contemplating putting on,” Multer said. “(Then) we’d be back to where we are now, and any proposal can come forward at that point when it’s got some meat on it.”
“If there’s enough people in town who want to keep the tower, they’ll show up voting day and reject the article,” Selectman Kevin Johnson added.
The board took no action on Chipman’s request, and he was not at the Feb. 11 meeting.
“It looks like (the selectmen) totally ignored the note from 100 Harpswell residents and plan to go forward with a plan to remove the tower only,” he said the next day.
Chipman is now circulating another petition to be officially recognized by the town clerk’s office, which he hopes will be included in the Town Meeting warrant.
Under state law, municipal officers must recognize a petition with verified signatures equal to or greater than 10 percent of the votes cast at the most recent gubernatorial election by inserting an article into the Town Meeting warrant or calling a special Town Meeting within 60 days.
That means water tower supporters have to gather at least 307 signatures.
The Board of Selectmen will meet March 3 to sign the warrant, which will be posted March 4.
“If the petition is received with sufficient time for the clerk … (and) prior to the posting, then the board could consider placing it on the March 12 warrant or decide to hold a special Town Meeting,” Deputy Town Administrator Terri Sawyer said in an email Tuesday.
On Wednesday afternoon, five water tower supporters, including Chipman, gathered under the tower at Mitchell Field with the new petition.
They talked to people out walking in the unseasonably warm weather. The signatures from a couple walking their dog grew the total to 220.
The group argued the tower had potential to actually make money for the town as a wireless tower, or serve the nearby Harpswell Neck Department by filling trucks.
“Our point is, this is an asset and a resource to the town,” Dorothy Rosenberg said.
Deb Norton agreed.
“It’s that Yankee feeling of not getting rid of something that’s still of worth,” she said.
Harpswell residents Glenn Vose, left, Dorothy Rosenberg, Robert McIntyre, Deb Norton, and David Chipman on Wednesday, Feb. 17, under the Mitchell Field water tower they hope to keep from being torn down.