Inspection could decide fate of Harpswell water tower

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HARPSWELL — The dilapidated, unused water storage tank that stands above Mitchell Field off Harpswell Neck Road is finally going to get some close scrutiny.

The 104-foot-high tower, built more than 60 years ago, is rusting in many spots. Its sky-blue protective coating has failed, allowing for more serious corrosion that could eventually threaten structural safety, a consultant told the Board of Selectmen last week.

In addition, an access ladder and other mechanical equipment are considered obsolete and hazardous.

The consultant, Scott Kelley of Atlanta-based Utility Service Co., inspected the exterior of the 100,000-gallon tank in 2011. But the unsafe access ladder prevented him from examining the tank’s interior.

At the April 17 board meeting, Kelley presented selectmen with a $2,500 proposal to conduct a more thorough inspection of the tank, inside and out. The board accepted the proposal in a 3-0 vote.

An accurate, updated assessment of the tank’s condition is necessary to determine if it poses safety or liability risks, Kelley said. The board could then decide how to repair the tank, or to demolish it. The structure could even be sold and converted to another use, such as a cell phone tower.

“There are three things I want to know,” Selectman Elinor Multer said. “What needs to be done? How soon do we need to do it? What is the estimate of the costs?”

At a minimum, selectmen agreed, the town needs to know if the tank is safe.

“Safety is first and foremost,” said Chairman Rick Daniel. “But does (the structure) necessarily need to be brought up to speed as a water tower? I don’t know that we want to have it sit around forever and not do anything with it.”

Daniel suggested that residents might come up with alternative uses for the tower, and the ideas could be vetted at next year’s Town Meeting.

One of the tower’s original functions was to provide water for the nearby Harpswell Neck Fire Department. But firefighters now rely on a high-pressure well, and the tank has been unused for years.

Drained of water, it could be more hazardous than when functional, Kelley explained.

“The tank was designed to hold water, and it hasn’t been maintained,” he said. “You’ve been fortunate, but I can’t guarantee (the tank) won’t become a liability tomorrow.”

In other business, Daniel confirmed the town is negotiating to sell the West Harpswell Elementary School building to Harpswell Coastal Academy, the regional charter school that opened last year.

The board discussed the potential sale in an executive session two weeks ago. Negotiations began April 10 and are “ongoing,” with a meeting scheduled for April 18, Daniel said.

The nearly 17,000 square-foot school building at 9 Ash Point Road has an assessed value of nearly $990,000, according to the town. The total assessed value of the property’s nearly 7 3/4 acres of land is about $1.09 million.

The former school was shuttered in 2011 by a public vote after School Administrative District 75 said the closing would save the district money.

In another unanimous vote, selectmen approved a warrant article to create $5,200 in funding for a part-time safety monitor on Cedar Beach and for signs explaining beach rules.

Earlier this month, the board accepted an easement deed that grants public access to the area, which is on Bailey Island and also known as Robinhood Beach. The monitor and signs are two of 16 requirements stipulated under the easement agreement.

The monitor would be on duty from July 1 to September 1, for an hour or two each day, according to Town Administrator Kristi Eiane.

If approved by voters in a secret ballot on June 10, the expenditures would be taken from the town’s unassigned fund balance.