Harpswell weighs Mitchell Field pier, water tower projects

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HARPSWELL — The Board of Selectmen has advanced the progress of two proposals at Mitchell Field, including the authorization of up to $23,500 to fund an engineering study of what it would cost to demolish the aging pier.

They also forwarded two proposals from telecommunications companies to the Water Tower Task Force.

The pier analysis will cost between $19,000 and almost $24,000, depending on whether Barney Baker, an engineer with Baker Design Consultants of Freeport, recommends it is feasible to reuse material from the old pier to build an artificial reef. 

The Mitchell Field Committee recommended at Town Meeting last March that the town demolish the pier because its rapid deterioration poses a safety hazard.

Baker previously projected the demolition would cost $3-5 million, but Deputy Town Administrator Terri Sawyer told selectmen residents will need an updated estimate for the 2017 Town Meeting, when residents will decide whether the structure should be demolished. 

“This is really to develop the costs for Town Meeting to develop a better number for the project,” Sawyer told the board Dec. 1. 

In order to be placed on the warrant for Town Meeting, a memo from Baker said a work plan for the project should be completed before Feb. 1, 2017.

While investigating the possibility of an artificial reef increases the analysis price by $4,000, Sawyer said it might ultimately result in $762,000 of savings for the town, since the inert material would no longer have to be removed.

However, Sawyer indicated that figure is subject to change, pending a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which may prevent the debris from being reused in an area outside the pier’s existing footprint.  A few years ago, Baker drew up an artificial reef proposal to save the town money on disposal costs – he came up with the $762,000 figure – but his plan is larger than the pier’s footprint.

If the Army Corps prohibits Baker from using materials outside the footprint, Sawyer said Baker will study a smaller, alternative plan, which would force the town to transport the demolition material and reduce the overall savings. 

Sawyer added that the Department of Environmental Protection has indicated it would approve the reef, and Baker is working with an environmental consultant, Resource Access International, to acquire permits.

Baker’s budget summary does not include fees associated with permits (which are reported to be minimal), materials testing during construction, and the preparation of construction documents.

Demolition is a proactive step toward a process that is already occurring naturally: in 2012, a free-standing “dolphin” off the northern side of the causeway collapsed into the ocean. 

Then, in the summer of the 2015, the pump house collapsed suddenly, without provocation from so much as a stiff breeze, according to an observation by Selectman Rick Daniel at a workshop.

During a November workshop, Baker walked the town through five alternatives – including no pier at all – that ranged from recreational use only to commercial uses. It is expected that residents will decide what course of action to take at town meeting. 

The committee has also recommended building a boat launch on the northern side of the pier’s causeway. In 2015, Baker submitted designs for a launch that would cost $330,000, before permitting.

Water tower proposals

Selectmen will seek a recommendation from the Water Tower Task Force on proposals from two firms to manage telecommunications equipment on the Mitchell Field tower.

Northern Pride Communications of Topsham and Falmouth-based Communications Facilities submitted proposals in response to a request issued by the town in early November.

Both firms outlined preliminary timetables that would unfold over the next year and a half, depending on when the contract is drawn up. 

The costs of readying the tower for a wireless carrier vary and are estimated.

Northern Pride Communications said it would likely require a fee for set-up services of $5,000-10,000, and proposed a revenue-sharing model once a carrier has contracted a lease. Communications Facilities  proposed a 25 percent management fee, along with other pricing variables. 

“It’s a lot to absorb, and they may want to comment and make a recommendation back to the board of selectmen,” Selectwoman Ellie Multer said.

Multer, who sits on the Task Force, said neither company has previously contracted with the town, but representatives from both have attended sub-committee meetings. 

Each company has experience mounting and managing wireless communications infrastructure on water towers, according to their proposals.

The Water Tower Task Force formed last spring to make a recommendation as to whether the town should re-purpose or demolish the structure. In addition to the potential for hosting a wireless carrier, the committee is looking into the feasibility of reintegrating the tower into the water system.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

Harpswell selectmen authorized an engineering firm to study what it would cost to demolish the deteriorating pier at Mitchell Field.

Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.