Harpswell sees urgent need to build boat launch, destroy pier

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HARPSWELL — As the town looks to construct a new boat ramp at Mitchell Field, it also has to decide what to do with the rapidly deteriorating pier on the former U.S. Navy property.

That was the consensus of a public hearing hosted by the Mitchell Field Committee Tuesday night.

The combined costs of the two projects range from $3-5 million.

Barney Baker, the design consultant for the boat launch, said the original plan had been to move forward with construction of the boat launch and decide what to do with the pier later.

But the collapse of a pump house two months ago has “brought that issue to the forefront,” according to Town Administrator Kristi Eiane.

Another part of the pier previously collapsed in 2012. The town has since prohibited any public access over or under the pier.

“(You) may lose some support for the boat launch if there’s no plan for the deteriorating pier,” Eiane said on Tuesday.

The construction of the boat launch is a key part of the Mitchell Field Master Plan, developed in 2007, which was designed to provide a more “holistic view of the future of the overall site.”

The 119-acre Mitchell Field property was transferred to the town in 2001, after the Navy ceased using it as a fuel depot in 1992.

The boat launch is meant to facilitate more public access to the waterfront, according to the master plan.

On Tuesday night, Baker said the most recent estimate for the cost of the boat launch, pre-permitting, and final design is $330,000.

The current plan calls for a two-lane, all-tide ramp, which could serve both recreational and commercial boats.

“(This) might draw business into the Mitchell Field (Marine Business District),” Baker said.

But much of the discussion centered on what to do about the deteriorating pier.

“Six months ago, these were separate issues,” said Committee Chairman Rob Roark. “Those days are over.”

Baker brought up some budget projections from 2011 on remediation scenarios for the pier. A full demolition and full rehabilitation cost about the same, from $3-5 million, he said.

A partial demolition, which would salvage the base of the structure as a fishing pier, would come in at $3-4 million. A partial demolition with a breakwater for a future marina would cost $4-5 million.

He stressed these numbers are “particularly preliminary” and not updated for 2015.

Of the more than a dozen people in attendance, most expressed support for either full or partial demolition of the pier.

“It would behoove us to draw as many supporters from as many factions as possible … (like) boaters, beach-goers, and fishermen,” Roark said.

Although everyone seemed to agree that it is in the town’s best interest to combine new construction with some kind of pier demolition, the question of how to fund the projects remains.

After the meeting, Baker said there are several avenues for grants.

The Maine Department of Transportation, as well as the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, provide funds for this type of work, he said, noting the Mere Point boat ramp in Brunswick was funded by an IFW grant.

As for funding the pier demolition, finding money for destroying things is harder than getting grants for new construction, Baker said.

But, he said, there many be potential for funds from the state Department of Environmental Protection. In initial conversations he has had with DEP, Baker said, officials were receptive to the idea of turning some of the rubble from the pier into an artificial reef.

The plans for the boat launch and pier demolition will go back to the Mitchell Field Committee to discuss and make a recommendation to the Board of Selectmen.

The committee hopes to get their “oar in the water” and have something before selectmen in September, Roark said, with the goal of a project design and budget going to Town Meeting in March 2016.

“Unless something is done soon,” Baker said, “this thing is going to come down.”

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or wwuthmann@theforecaster.net. Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

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A photo rendering of the proposed boat launch at Mitchell Field in Harpswell.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.