Island hit hard by Bill

Posted Aug. 29, 2009, at 5:25 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:57 a.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — The death of a young girl from New York and injuries caused to more than a dozen other visitors to Acadia National Park were not the only destructive legacy Hurricane Bill left behind in Maine.

The storm that created huge waves Down East the weekend of Aug. 22 also decimated several buildings on Mount Desert Rock, a small, treeless rock outcropping about 20 miles south of Mount Desert Island in the Gulf of Maine.

College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor uses Mount Desert Rock for field studies in the summer, when college students and faculty members stay in a former lighthouse keeper’s house on the tiny island for days at a time while conducting marine research. Besides the house, the island also has a boathouse, a generator shed, and a lighthouse tower that is owned and maintained by the Coast Guard.

Officials at COA said Saturday that because of the high surf generated by Hurricane Bill, the boathouse is now mostly gone and the generator shed is missing two of its ground-level walls. The storm blew through a door and windows at the house, causing water damage to the interior. The lighthouse tower, built out of granite several feet thick, is unscathed.

Sean Todd, a COA professor who oversees research at the remote facility, said Saturday that the college made sure no one was on the island, which is only 3 acres of exposed rock at low tide, when the storm hit. He said the college made sure the buildings were secure, which included boarding up windows, when people left days ahead of the storm.

“The boathouse is pretty much gone,” he said. “The door to the [house] was ripped open. The storm ripped the boards off.”

Todd said that research based from Mount Desert Rock, which includes studies on whales and seals, will be suspended for the year, though it is late in the summer research season. Other marine research based from the college’s Bar Harbor campus, or that uses submersible buoys to study underwater sounds made by marine mammals, is expected to continue, he said. The submersible buoys are placed several hundred feet below the ocean’s surface, he said, and are believed to have survived the storm.

“We found out about this on Thursday [Aug. 20],” Todd said. “We’re just taking it step by step. I have every reason to believe we’re going to continue those programs [based on Mount Desert Rock].”

Todd said he did not have a monetary estimate for the damage done by Bill to the buildings on the island.

According to Andrew Peterson, marine facilities superintendent for the college, the boathouse was built to withstand severe weather. The walls of the boathouse were built with 10-inch-square posts spaced every two feet. But an 8-inch I-beam and chain hoist that were inside the boathouse and a large contractor’s air compressor now are nowhere to be seen. He guessed the I-beam weighed about 1,000 pounds and the compressor between a ton and 3,000 pounds.

“There’s no evidence of them anywhere on the island,” Peterson said. “All that is gone.”

Peterson said the buildings on Mount Desert Rock, some of which date back to the mid-1800s, have been damaged by storms before. In 1962, Hurricane Daisy destroyed the two-story lighthouse keeper’s house, which was rebuilt, and a single-story structure. The second story was rebuilt again in 2001, he said.

Much of the contents of the house were swept out of the house and are strewn around the island, according to the COA staffer. The foundation of the building also may have had some damage, he said.

COA places a high value on the facilities on the remote island because they enable the college to offer programs that are rare for undergraduates, according to Peterson.

“It’s definitely been a step back because it’s been an invaluable educational opportunity for our students,” he said. “Our undergraduates can participate in hands-on field research. Normally, you wouldn’t get that opportunity until you’re in a graduate school setting.”

Peterson said that, in his 12 years at the college, he has experienced higher winds and torrential rain, but has never seen such damage at Mount Desert Rock. He said the devastation is a result of a combination of the large waves amplified by Bill’s slow forward speed and an unusually high tide.

“It’s a pretty unique spot,” Peterson said. “It’s the most remote light station on the East Coast. When it comes down to it, the ocean always wins.”

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