Harpswell weighs options for Mitchell Field pier

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HARPSWELL — A committee gathered feedback from a packed room Tuesday night on possible designs for a new pier at Mitchell Field.

Town Planner Mark Eyerman said possibilities for a new structure range from “the whole enchilada” to not replacing the pier.

At Town Meeting last March, the Mitchell Field Committee recommended that the town demolish the pier, which is rapidly deteriorating.

The pier’s collapse would not only be dangerous, but more expensive to clean up than if the town proactively demolished the structure. The cost of demolition ranges from $3-4 million, according to Barney Baker of Baker Design Consultants.

The committee has also recommended the town build a boat launch on the northern side of the pier’s causeway, which Baker estimated would cost $330,000. Theoretically, the launch’s construction would take place in tandem with building a new pier.

Town Meeting allocated $30,000 for development of a plan and a budget to remove the pier and consider replacing it with a new structure.

Baker appeared with the committee on Tuesday to update the public on the condition of the pier and discuss ways to move forward with a replacement.

He used examples from other municipal piers around the state – ranging from Falmouth’s Town Landing boat ramp to the commercial Memorial Pier in Wiscasset – to illustrate the possibilities between those extremes. The town will have to decide whether to make a new pier capable for recreational or commercial use, or both.

Chairwoman Jane Covey said the committee isn’t yet at a stage where they will decide a budget for the project; the first step is to explore what the town would like to see in the area.

She said a pier at Mitchell Field would be different from other town landings because of its access to deep water and an abundance of parking space; as such, the site is able to support a range of recreation and commercial uses.

However, the examples of municipal piers in Baker’s slide show ranged from $250,000-$450,000, depending on how elaborate the design. Most projects were built with the assistance of grant funding.

An active and vocal crowd gave Baker a lot  to think about, and he will appeal with preliminary design ideas based on Tuesday’s input at a Nov. 14 committee meeting. “We’re still at the vision stage,” Baker said.

He also confirmed that the demolition of the old pier and the construction of the new pier do not have to take place in tandem.

There was no resounding consensus among the 20 or so people in attendance, but overall, there was excitement over the possibility of creating a public facility for a town as “water-centric” as Harpswell, as one member of the public put it.

But one thing was made certain: no plans can go forward before the town removes the dilapidated pier.

Baker explained that steel deterioration in the pier’s cellular platforms has caused “the whole facility to open up like a can opener,” and that corrosion along the piles is so bad that, in some cases, the piles have become completely detached. These features put the structure in danger of imminent collapse.

Selectman Rick Daniel reminded the town that the old pump house caved in from the side of the pier last summer without any help from the weather; one day, it  just collapsed – and removing it this summer cost $85,000, Daniel said.

He stressed the urgency of removing the pier in order for the town “to dissolve the liability, and make something we can all use” in its place.

Some people in the audience latched on to the latter part of his comment, arguing that developers and marine businesses that might be interested in locating on Mitchell Field will have a hard time imagining themselves doing business there until the disintegrating pier is gone.

The Mitchell Field Master Plan from 2007 zoned the area north of the causeway for marine business.

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

Workers remove a pump house that collapsed last year at the deteriorating Mitchell Field pier in Harpswell.

Edited 10/5 to correct spelling of Rick Daniel’s last name.

Reporter on the Brunswick/Harpswell beat. Proud Bowdoin grad that you can find reporting on municipal, school, and community news, or inside the many coffee and sandwich shops around the Midcoast. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100.