BREWER, Maine — When an Old Town man severed his thumb while working on a small island in the Penobscot River on March 11, the hovercraft was dispatched to pick him up, but shortly after leaving the shore the craft malfunctioned and crashed.
Brewer city leaders, citing repeated operational problems and rising maintenance costs, decided Tuesday to return the Hoverguard 1000, which was purchased in 2006 in partnership with Bangor using Homeland Security funds. Bangor leaders also have endorsed the measure.
“The problem really began some time ago with several mechanical problems,” Brewer City Manager Steve Bost said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
During the March incident “we were on a rescue mission on the ice,” he said. While traveling to the island, “the hovercraft lost its steering and began to spin out of control and crashed into a bunch of trees.”
That impact broke the hovercraft’s rear-mounted propellers, which flew through the air and had the potential to injure the four firefighters on board from Brewer and Old Town and the person they were attempting to assist, Brewer Fire Chief Gary Parent said Wednesday.
“After this incident, which is the third time there was issues with the propellers, I approached the city about the idea of retiring it, returning it,” he said. “I feel it’s just a dangerous craft and that we should get rid of it.”
After losing its steering it was impossible to move the 19-foot-3-inch hovercraft, which was stuck on the ice for several days. That incident, which caused around $12,000 in damage, was the last straw, Parent said, adding that fire department and city leaders in Bangor agree.
“It’s not just the cost of repairing it,” Bost said Wednesday. “Every time it needs to be repaired, it has to be transported to Michigan. That’s an added cost” of time and money.
The Maine Emergency Management Agency was unwilling to give funds individually to Bangor and Brewer but willingly awarded them $59,000 for the hovercraft, with the understanding the craft was to be used regionally.
“The emergency management agency has agreed to take it back,” Bost said.
The hovercraft is lettered Bangor-Brewer Fire Rescue on one side and Brewer-Bangor Fire Rescue on the other. On the back is the name Bon Ton IV, to honor the ferries that once connected the sister cities.
The bright red hovercraft was first put into service in Ellsworth in December 2007 when a teenage girl ran across the thin ice of Graham Lake to a small island just offshore.
She and a game warden who followed her were rescued by the Bon Ton IV. The craft has been used successfully numerous times in the last five years, but the dangers outweigh the benefits, Parent said.
“We’ll be looking for a more traditional watercraft as a replacement,” Bost said.
During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the board also:
— Held a public hearing and then endorsed tax increment financing for Penobscot Eye Care.
— Changing the zoning of 186 Parkway South for Noyes Construction.
— Signed contracts with Maine Power Options for electric services for streetlights and a mutual-aid agreement with MEWARN, a partnership of communities and private water suppliers to provide assistance during disasters.
— Decided to move $4,000 from a dormant community development block grant program from the state to the federal CDBG program, and then closed the state account.
— Hired Rodney Butler as code enforcement officer and building, electrical and plumbing inspector.
— Agreed to put out requests for proposals for design and permit work for phase one of the proposed Brewer Business and Commerce Park, with a price tag not to exceed $180,000.
— Authorized the 2007, 2008 and 2009 tax abatement for the Ellen Leach Memorial Home, which total $140,003, and taking the 2010 tax amount from that total.
— Heard from Finance Director Karen Fussell that budget figures should be ready soon. “We are facing a very difficult budget this year,” she said “Our tax base is declining. The lost of tax value is in the $300,000 to $350,000 range. We’re looking to reduce the budget by around $500,000 to maintain a stable mill rate.”