SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council on May 8 directed town staff to look into demolishing or restricting access to the ramp that extends from Deake Street to Willard Beach as soon as possible.
Councilors in the workshop also reached consensus that they’d rather build a new fire station than spend $1.7 million to renovate the Cash Corner station to eliminate mold and bring it up to code.
Safety concerns about the access point off Deake Street include the stairs, which lack a railing on one side and two steps at the bottom; the ramp, which hovers several feet off the ground due to years of erosion, and a stone retaining wall in between, which is leaning toward the beach.
Last month, a proposed contract with Saco-based Maineway Landscaping and Excavation to repair the stairs for $41,000 was removed from the council agenda after several neighbors aired concerns about spending the money. Residents instead said they’d be in favor of more expensive and extensive work to also repair the ramp.
So, rather than proceeding with repairs to the stairs and leaving the ramp and other issues to a future master planning process, as recommended by staff, councilors on Tuesday said they’d rather see the ramp demolished or restricted “as soon as possible” for safety concerns.
Owens McCullough, of Sebago Technics, said any removal and rebuilding of the stairs and ramp would require a permit from the Department of Environmental Protection, which could take some time.
Councilor Kate Lewis said the city should get rid of the ramp to avoid potential injuries, an opinion echoed by other councilors. She said she worries that children would crawl under it, and that it could collapse at any time.
McCullough said he would like to check with the DEP first to see if demolition would also require a permit.
“We can’t disturb the natural resource, so I would check with them and verify,” McCullough said. “Given the history of this, my experience has been no, you don’t need a permit to remove something, but in this case I think I should double-check.”
In the meantime, councilors said the city should also erect signs and warnings to dissuade people from using the access point.
“I think those two things should happen almost immediately before we have thousands of kids climbing all over these rocks … and the ramp,” Lewis said.
Councilors also said they’d like to look into “master planning” long-term access at the end of Deake Street.
Residents of Deake Street and surrounding streets attended Tuesday’s meeting to share concerns and potential solutions to maintain public access to the beach.
Many said they felt the ramp should be the city’s focus because it is more useful and “inclusive” than the stairs.
Ed Rowe, of 2 Deake St., said “a ramp can function as a stair, but a stair can’t function as a ramp.”
Michael Nozdrovicky, of 24 Deake St., noted that the safety concern of a broken step at the bottom of the stairs was brought to light more than a year ago.
“I think the step could simply be replaced temporarily,” he said.
Firefighters attended Tuesday’s workshop to talk about why the council should consider building a new fire station, rather than spending money to improve the existing one.
Capt. Chris Copp said he was concerned about investing in a station built in the 1970s. He estimated the department will outgrow the station in the next five to seven years.
“It’s not going to serve us too much into the future,” Copp said. “We’re already starting to run up against the size … and function of this building.”
An assessment of the indoor environmental quality and microbial reservoirs at the station was conducted last year and found that significant remediation and renovations would be needed to address extensive mold accumulations in wall cavities, ceilings, insulation and other surfaces. The study also found diesel particulates on many surfaces.
McCullough estimated an entire rebuilding would cost the city at least double what it would to demolish and reconstruct the living quarters, which is the area of greatest concern.
Still, councilors said they would be in favor of putting the project out to a bond referendum. Before they do, however, there are still many steps that would have to be taken, including identifying a site for a new station and figuring out where firefighters would work in the meantime.
McCullough said he would like to have a site, preliminary design and cost estimate set before the question goes to a vote so that construction could begin shortly after. Although Mayor Linda Cohen said she wanted to get the question to voters this November, Finance Director Greg L’ Heureux said given the time frame, that would be unlikely.
Cohen concluded the discussion by apologizing to the firefighters.
“No employee should be subjected to working in those conditions,” she said.
The South Portland Fire Station at Cash Corner on Main Street.