Harpswell Town Meeting to determine water tower's fate

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HARPSWELL — Town officials hope to put an end to years of debate about the fate of the Mitchell Field water tower by having a public vote at Town Meeting in March.

To prepare for creating two warrant articles related to the issue, the town is also drafting what it calls an Expression of Interest document for outside parties who may want to the tower, in case voters choose to keep the structure. 

The warrant articles have not been written, but at the recommendation of the Water Tower Task Force, one article will ask voters if they authorize the Board of Selectmen to move forward with demolition of the tower. The other will seek authorization of a multi-year lease with an outside party for up to 20 years.

The town gained ownership of the tower in 2000 along with the rest of Mitchell Field, following the closure of the former U.S. Navy fuel depot in 1992. 

The Expression of Interest was first presented at the Board of Selectmen’s Jan. 18 meeting. It states the town would like to garner interest prior to Town Meeting, in order to provide more information to voters in the related warrant articles.

According to the document, written by Planner Mark Eyerman, the town is looking for someone to take over the “long-term responsibility for the management, use, renovation and long-term maintenance of the water tower.”

Part of that maintenance would include repairing the foundation, which was found to be deficient by Woodard and Curran, the engineering firm that conducted an ongoing study of the structure and submitted a report to the town last March.

The document states the chosen outside entity will be required to make the repairs within six months of Town Meeting.

The town also expects any interested entity to submit a plan for the renovation of the water tower and related facilities, as well as a time-line for completing the work and the estimated cost of each major repair.

The costs, according to the document, are to be based on written estimates or proposals by contractors, engineers or tower consultants.

The deadline to submit a proposal is Friday, Feb. 16, at 4 p.m.

Selectmen held a workshop on the topic Tuesday evening, with some members of the Water Tower Task Force, to go over the draft and discuss revisions.

Dorothy Rosenburg, a member of the group, said she thought some elements of the draft needed to be fixed before it was finalized. One of her major critiques was the complexity of the proposal the town is asking entities to create.

Rosenburg noted that since the town would not know if the tower would be available for lease until after the vote is taken at Town Meeting, it may want to consider separating the task of gathering interest and accepting proposals into two parts.

“You are asking for proposals for people to put together a really complicated proposal, rather than an expression of interest,” Rosenburg said. 

She added putting together such a proposal is “a fairly significant investment” when the tower may not be available for lease at all.

Instead of its current approach, Rosenburg said, the town should garner what interested organizations’ missions are, their fundraising sources, and other preliminary facts ahead of Town Meeting. Afterward, she said it could set a deadline for the proposals if the tower is available.

Further discussion of the water tower leasing was scheduled for the Selectmen’s Jan. 25 meeting, and at a meeting of the Water Tower Task Force the same day.

Chairman Rick Daniel said part of what is delaying officials from moving the process forward is not having a finalized proposal to issue. 

“Once we can work something out, then we can issue a proposal,” he said. 

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente

The Harpswell Board of Selectmen, Planner Mark Eyerman and Town Administrator Kristi Eiane met with Water Tower Task Force members at a workshop Jan. 23 to discuss leasing the Mitchell Field tower.

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