Harpswell Town Meeting may get dueling questions on water tower

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HARPSWELL — The question of what to do with the empty, 100-foot tall water tower at the former U.S. Navy fuel depot at Mitchell Field is set to resurface at Town Meeting in March.

Selectmen have added an article to the 2016 warrant that will allow residents to vote on removing the structure at a cost of $22,000, according to Town Administrator Kristi Eiane.

But resident David Chipman, who is chairman of the Planning Board, approached selectmen at their Jan. 28 meeting to ask that an article be added to the warrant to keep the water tower.

Chipman said he was told last year there would be two questions: one for tearing the tower down, and one for keeping it up.

Town Administrator Kristi Eiane told Chipman that the latest an item could be added to the warrant is two weeks before the March 12 meeting.

A 2014 report done for the town by Atlanta-based Utility Service Group estimated it would cost over $400,000 to rehabilitate the structure. Although the tower is in “good structural condition,” the report found, interior and exterior wear threatened further deterioration and potential collapse.

Selectmen initially considered putting an article on the 2015 Town Meeting warrant to demolish the tower, but a petition circulated by Chipman that garnered about 120 signatures led the board to push the decision back a year.

Now, as Town Meeting 2016 approaches, Chipman told selectmen, “If you’re willing to spend $20,000 to tear it down, put $20,000 towards keeping it.”

He argued that the tower, though unused since the fuel depot closed in 1992, remains an asset to the town. He said it could be used as a tower for wireless services, or to hold water for future development at Mitchell Field.

He said if the town could create a fund, he believed many individuals would donate private money towards work on the public structure.

Chipman said he is asking for “a piece of the Town Meeting warrant to discuss this” on behalf of a group of residents loosely defined as “Friends of the Water Tower.”

He added that he believes the structure could be rehabilitated for less than $400,000.

Selectman Elinor Multer responded to Chipman’s request, saying “(there was) never a selectman who told you there’d be a second article on the warrant.”

But, she added, “if you present something to us, we’ll look at it.”

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

The water tower at the former U.S. Navy fuel depot in Harpswell has not been used for more than 20 years. Voters will decide to keep or remove it at Town Meeting March 12.

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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.