Business growth eyed in Winterport

Winterport Town Manager Phil Pitula (l) talks with Winterport Selectman Joe Brooks recently on a site by the Penobscot River that the men think might be ripe for some kind of development. (Abigail Curtis/BDN)
Winterport Town Manager Phil Pitula (l) talks with Winterport Selectman Joe Brooks recently on a site by the Penobscot River that the men think might be ripe for some kind of development. (Abigail Curtis/BDN)
Posted Oct. 20, 2010, at 12:39 a.m.

WINTERPORT, Maine — Many years ago, this town along the Penobscot River had a busy deep-water harbor, thriving shipping businesses, active farms and other industry.

But today, a lot of that activity has dried up, and Winterport is a bedroom community for Bangor and Belfast that boasts magnificent views of the river — though not much in the way of a large employer or business.

However, some town officials and residents think the community can and should be more than that.

“We want growth, orderly growth that reflects the opinions of the community,” Winterport Town Councilor Joe Brooks said recently. “I think we have all the assets of a growing community.”

Those include a location along Route 1A, which is a high-traffic corridor road, a location only about 25 minutes from Bangor International Airport and with easy linkages to the interstate and railroad. Those assets soon will include a town development committee dedicated to encouraging future growth.

The committee will comprise community members who demonstrate a compelling interest in Winterport’s growth, two town councilors, members of the Winterport Area Business Association and representatives from the planning board, the board of assessors and the fire department.

“The townspeople are bearing the brunt of the taxes,” Brooks said. “So residents of the community will have a great deal of input about the future of the community. What is it you want to see?”

The town development committee will meet at least 11 times a year, according to town officials, and will be tasked with writing a plan for the development of a working harbor along the river, which will include the location of a water-dependent industry, anchor structures for the property and a multiuse waterfront park.

In addition to the privately owned riverfront property, Winterport also owns more than 1,000 acres, some of which is available to be developed or sold, according to Town Manager Phil Pitula.

The last major business located along the river was the Winterport Terminals, which closed about five years ago after a freezer malfunction caused 60 tons of bait to rot and left the town gasping for breath, Brooks and Pitula said.

“When the freezer went, the business went, too,” Pitula said. “Those jobs are now gone.”

Even though the once-pungent smell seems to have vanished, the warehouses belonging to the unsold but defunct business are starting to buckle — and that seems a shame to the officials, who would like to see something great take its place.

“We don’t want to bring in anything that’s not an exceptional new company,” Brooks said. “Our goal is to preserve the town’s integrity.”

For information about the Town Development Committee, call the Winterport Town Office at 223-5055.

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