HARPSWELL — After years of discussion, the water tower at Mitchell Field will be demolished.
The tower’s fate was sealed at Town Meeting March 10, when voters also returned David Chipman to a three-year term on the Board of Selectmen and re-elected Joanne Rogers a director of School Administrative District 75.
The 231 voters also approved a $5.2 million budget, which is a 3.3 percent increase over the current year, passed 67 of 68 warrant articles, and approved over $9,500 for new browntail moth research.
The only article that failed would have authorized a multi-year agreement with an outside entity for up to 20 years to lease the water tower.
Instead, the town will spend up to $40,000 from the Mitchell Field capital reserve fund for the tower’s demolition.
Chipman ran unopposed after serving the final year of former Selectman Elinor Multer’s term. Rogers, a current board member, defeated write-in candidate Peter Huntsman, 128-110.
Voters also approved just under $142,000 for the Curtis Memorial Library via secret ballot.
On Saturday, several residents gave opinions about what should happen to the water tower, which has been a topic of discussion in Harpswell for nearly a decade. The town gained ownership of the structure in 2000 along with the rest of Mitchell Field, following the closure of the U.S. Navy fuel depot at the site in 1992.
Voters have only had the option to vote to demolish the tower at Town Meeting one other time, in 2012, when the proposal was defeated.
In 2015, selectmen intended again to ask voters if they would like to restore or demolish the tower, but a petition circulated by Chipman put off the decision. That spring, a Water Tower Task Force was also formed to provide written recommendations toward possible future uses of the tower.
At the 2016 Town Meeting, residents voted to allocate $22,000 towards “repairing, maintaining, and obtaining engineering analyses” of the tower.
An engineering analysis performed by Woodard and Curran last March found some of the tower’s foundations needed to be repaired.
Friends of Mitchell Field, a nonprofit made up of Harpswell residents, was the only entity to submit interest. According to their proposal, the group’s first intended use of the tower was to “support one or more cell transponders to improve the severe signal shortage in various parts of Harpswell.”
On Saturday, Chairman Rick Daniel said the selectmen were in favor of putting the two articles concerning the tower on the warrant, but had no recommendation.
He added that although the board saw “the other side” of wanting to preserve the tower, it would not be a financially sound decision for the town.
“It makes no economic sense for the town to do it, but we’ve always left it open for other parties,” he said.
Planner Mark Eyerman also gave an overview of the work done by the Water Tower Task Force, and several members of the public commented on the water tower’s potential to provide cell phone reception or water to the town, as well as why it should be demolished.
Terry Flanagan, a member of Friends of Mitchell Field, advocated for the water tower to be used for cell phone reception, calling it the “best option” in the area to provide coverage for South Harpswell, Orr’s Island and Bailey Island.
“Not having cell service is not only a danger to citizens there, but over time, I think it will reduce the property value of places that don’t have cell service,” Flanagan said. “And, insurance companies might start looking at (that).”
Former Selectman Gordon Weil said there are more cost effective ways to implement cell service in those areas without using the tower. Weil pointed to a cell tower in Harpswell that is on town property and built by a private company without using town funds.
“I agree with the people in South Harpswell who are saying they ought to have it, I don’t argue that,” he said. “Yes, absolutely, let’s see if we can do it, but you don’t need a water tower for that.”
Jim Knight, a former member of the Water Tower Task Force, advocated for the tower’s demolition. He outlined three engineering reports, all of which he said concluded the tower still needs “a lot of expensive repairs,” and recommended removal.
“The water tower is not an icon for Harpswell, it’s not a landmark, it’s not a historic monument,” Knight said. “It’s a safety hazard. If your thing is to save (it) for sentimental reasons, I caution you, sentimentality can be a darned expensive thing.”
Harpswell residents voted to demolish the water tower at Mitchell Field on Saturday, March 10 at the annual Town Meeting. The town will expend up to $40,000 from the Mitchell Field capital reserve fund to tear down the structure, instead of entering into a leasing agreement with an outside entity to repair and maintain it.