Truck traffic tops concerns about Harpswell pier removal

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HARPSWELL — When the town begins to demolish the Mitchell Field pier this fall, things like traffic, noise and dust will increase.

The town recently received permission from state and federal agencies for removal of the collapsing pier over a two-year period, and engineer Barney Baker’s recommended use of a 3-acre upland portion of the field to stage, stockpile, and process approximately 23,000 cubic yards of materials pulled from the seabed.

As he finalizes plans before the project goes to bid in August, Baker and town officials met with abutters and residents Monday to discuss how to mitigate impacts of the long construction period.

The nearly 25 residents in attendance Tuesday were mostly concerned about truck traffic hauling loads of steel, concrete, and debris. The contractor hired will be obligated to comply with a local noise ordinance and control the dust generated by construction, Baker said, and those concerns drew few questions from the group.

However, abutter Karen Blake said she’s worried about competition between construction vehicles and visitors’ cars. 

She echoed several others in describing the constant use of the field during the winter and summer months, especially for walking. The 119-acre property contains a paved road that runs from the entrance gate to the shoreline and loops around the proposed construction lay-down area.

Also, the Mitchell Field bandstand is on the south side of the pier causeway. Concerts are held every Thursday evening that can draw as many as 200 people, according to bandstand committee member Richard Meisenbach.

Addressing these concerns, Baker acknowledged the inevitability of increased traffic on the site, but sought to reassure the group the trucks would, for the most part, be contained to the fenced staging area.

At Meisenbach’s request, Baker said it wouldn’t be unreasonable to add to the project contract a restriction on Thursday-night activity.

The trucks hauling pier materials will travel, according to the plan, along a new dirt road that will be sectioned off from the recreational area that’s open to visitors.

Baker drew the road as a crescent shape that would intersect with the field’s main road at a far inland juncture, thus allowing trucks to exit the construction zone at a point that avoids the popular beach area and bandstand.

Neighbors also have concerns about construction vehicles adding to the traffic along Route 123, or Harpswell Neck Road.

John Ott, who lives on Route 123 at the entrance to Mitchell Field, described it as a sometimes-treacherous intersection where drivers often speed along the narrow curves.

In January, a car took the turn too quickly and slammed into the bushes in front of his house, he said Monday.

Baker acknowledged the danger, but said 38 trucking days wouldn’t likely affect the overall traffic on the road.

He said the lagging pace of taking apart the pier itself deconstruction – where divers will cut steel from concrete pilings at a carefully slow rate – will give the contractor ample time to schedule activity that takes place on the upland staging area, which goes at a faster rate.

The contractor will have more control, in other words, in deciding the optimal days to schedule the truck trips needed to haul material along Route 123.

Those days will likely be scheduled to avoid certain times of the year, such as the early spring thaw, when roads are posted at a reduced weight limit.

Few residents took issue with the necessity of the project itself, mirroring the near lack of dissent at Town Meeting in March, when voters approved a $5 million bond to finance the demolition.

Based on Monday night’s input, the Mitchell Field Committee will work with Baker to address concerns and develop responses and a project contract.

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

Engineer Barney Baker, with town officials during a recent site walk at Mitchell Field in Harpswell, points to the vegetated area where a contractor will likely stockpile construction materials when a former U.S. Navy pier is demolished starting this fall.

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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.