Navy relics come with price tag at Mitchell Field in Harpswell

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HARPSWELL — The total cost to make Mitchell Field safe and ready for business would be more than $2.8 million, a team of engineers reported last week.

Rob Roark, chairman of the Mitchell Field Committee, said he was happy with the work by the engineers, and believes the estimate is reasonable.

“I think that to establish an infrastructure, the price tag was surprisingly low,” Roark said.

A crumbling pier, an illegal access road and an impractical water tower are some of the issues the town will have to contend with as it tries to transform the former U.S. Navy fuel depot into a place that can support marine businesses.

The engineering report, which was presented to the town by Joe Laverrierre of DeLuca-Hoffman Associates on April 24, had several recommended actions that totaled $2.8 million, but it also provided cost estimates for alternatives.

“I liked the way they kind of gave us a shopping list of, ‘you can do this for this price, you can do that for that price,” Roark said. “It gave the town some flexibility of how it can proceed.”

Most of the cost, $1.7 million, would be spent to stabilize a pier that is standing on pilings that are so eroded that it could collapse at any time.

Roark said the pier has been a disappointment.

“I was very disappointed in the condition of the pier, because a lot of us worked pretty hard to put a railing on there,” he said.

While Roark had mixed feelings about whether the pier should be repaired or demolished, he said the town should make up its mind relatively quickly.

“Let’s say it’s dangerous to go out there and do remediation. As time goes on, it’s going to get more dangerous,” he said. “As the number of people who can do it diminishes, the price tag might go up.”

Laverrierre also said an access road to the field off of Route 123 lacks legally required sight-line distances. The road is posted at 45 mph, which carries with it a requirement to have clear sight lines of 445 feet.

“To the right, you’ve got plenty of sight-line distance, but to the left, it’s about 225 feet, so you’re much less than what’s required,” he said.

Ordinarily, clearing the trees and other obstructive vegetation to meet the law would be relatively simple, but in this case, the property involved does not belong to the town.

“There would need to be some rights acquired from a couple of property owners in order to be able to clear that far,” Laverrierre said.

One solution would be to reposition the road at a cost of $223,000, but Laverrierre instead recommended petitioning the state Department of Transportation to simply reduce the speed limit.

With a speed limit of 30 mph, the sight-line requirements would be reduced to 345 feet, which could be managed by clearing only town-owned land.

The more expensive problem, Laverrierre said, is that the road, at more than 50 years old, is approaching the end of its life.

“It’s got quite a bit of cracking,” he said. Rather than recommending a low-cost solution of filling the cracks, he advocated for a $302,000 road reconstruction effort, which would ensure the road’s service life for the next 15 to 20 years.

“That is the most expensive fix, but I think in terms of long term, I think that is a better approach,” Laverrierre said.

Another Navy relic, an old water storage tank, was found to be in relatively good shape in an inspection by N.H.-based Utility Service Corp.

“(They) said it was a good asset for the town, but you get back to what purpose it would serve for the marine business district,” Laverriere said.

In an attempt to make use of the tank, Town Administrator Kristi Eaine said the town had changed an ordinance to allow the structure’s use as a cellular communications tower.

“We have not been contacted with any type of follow-up from any of those companies to do that,” she said.

The cost of bringing it back to “like-new” condition would be $350,000, while the cost of scrapping it would be $40,000, Laverriere said.

The 100,000-gallon tank’s capacity far exceedss the storage needs of the marine business district, which he estimated at being closer to 3,000 gallons.

Laverrierre said that he could only guess the Navy’s use for the tank.

“Our thought is that it was reprovisioning ships after they came.” he said. “After they offloaded the fuel, and before they headed back out, they were using it to reprovision with fresh water.”

Eventually, the tank will become a hazard, Laverrierre said. He recommended that it be scrapped.

Other big-ticket items include $345,000 to grade the land and create 5.6 acres of developable space; a waste-water disposal system would for $206,000; rehabilitating an existing water well would run another $159,000, and storm-water management would cost another $84,000.

While many of the features of Mitchell Field have costs associated with making them useful, Roark said the Navy did a good job of handing the property off to the town, even going so far as to reinstall a dismantled electrical system at the town’s request.

“They cleansed the buildings of asbestos and things like that. They cleansed the soil. They ripped out all of the electrical power, and then they reinstalled it, all at the Navy’s expense,” he said. “I would say that they handed it over in the condition that the regulatory bodies required, and that the town asked for.”

Many of the decisions about how to proceed on the engineers’ recommendations will depend on ongoing negotiations between the town and Harpswell Oceanic Center, an aquaculture company that has indicated an interest in the property.

Eaine said that the Board of Selectmen will likely address many of the issues raised in the report over the coming months.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or matthh@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @hh_matt.

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