EASTPORT, Maine — The Eastport City Council voted 4-to-1 Thursday night to sell the 17-acre Boat School, a nationally known marine education center, and the surrounding Deep Cove property to Perry Marine and Construction for $300,000.
The new owner plans to build a fabrication facility and will be giving 9 acres and the existing classroom buildings to The Friends of the Boat School.
Perry Marine, a cooperative effort between Morrison Manufacturing in Perry and CPM Constructors of Freeport, recently obtained a multiyear contract to build the offshore tidal energy platforms for Ocean Renewable Power Co.
For some this was a win-win situation that will allow the Boat School to remain in operation, provide a new fabrication location for Perry Marine, remove a financial drain on the city and provide $300,000 to the city’s coffers. At least one councilor, however, said the sale was pushed through “a back-room deal by the good old boys” that took place before the public meeting.
“All of this was set out ahead of time. It was preconceived,” Councilor Michael Cummings, who cast the single dissenting vote, said Friday morning.
Although the total 15-acre property and buildings — which the city has owned since September 2007 — are assessed at $2 million, City Manager Jon Southern said the school and facility’s maintenance has cost Eastport $479,000 over the past four years. Those expenses are not offset by tax revenue.
Husson University announced earlier this year that when the second year of its program is completed next spring, it no longer would be leasing and operating the facility. Yacht maker David Marlow of Florida late last year had made a proposal for a multimillion-dollar facility and the city had accepted his $850,000 offer for the facility and school. However, except for his proposal, no legal papers had been drawn up and no deposit was made on the property. Earlier this summer, Marlow suddenly backed out of the deal, citing an unwelcoming attitude by some in the community among his reasons.
Last month, both Perry Marine and Construction and The Friends of the Boat School approached the City Council with competing offers to take over the Deep Cove facility. Councilors also received a letter from the Hinckley Yacht Co. of Southwest Harbor and Rhode Island that said the company was interested in touring the property.
Cummings said Friday that he had confirmation from Hinckley’s vice president the company was scheduling a visit to the boat yard and school after Labor Day.
“We should have given this more time,” Cummings said.
“They may be patting themselves on the back this morning, but they never gave the taxpayers an opportunity to really look at this deal,” Cummings said. “I don’t think they delivered the best message for the entire town. This deal was just for the handful of people who are involved.”
Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, confirmed late Thursday in an email that members of the Friends of the Boat School and Perry Marine and Construction met at his Eastport mustard mill before the public meeting where he acted as a mediator to hammer out a deal.
“I was very concerned that the Friends of the Boat School and PMC had reached an impasse and were on the verge of submitting competing proposals to the council that would have resulted in one or perhaps even both being unsuccessful,” Raye said. “So I brought them together for a 5 p.m. meeting at the mustard mill, where we negotiated an agreement that resulted in the successful joint proposal.”
Tom Ries, president of The Friends of the Boat School, agreed. “There was no back-room deal. We had reached an impasse and Kevin got us back to the drawing table and we came up with an agreement.”
Ries said The Boat School will continue to be run this year by Husson University for a senior composite class but that the Friends hope to immediately begin recruiting students. “That property hasn’t really been maintained in 15 years,” he said. “We are very excited and although we have lots of work to do, we have a lot of energy.”
Jerry Morrison of Perry Marine and Construction said the agreement was “a team effort that came together at the very last minute.” He said legal paperwork is now being drawn up and he hopes that his company can begin retrofitting the 8 acres it will own soon.
“We are also working with the city to purchase some nearby land for a new public access to the water,” he said. Perry Marine and Construction will give Eastport $75,000 towards the purchase and the city will seek to obtain grants.
The new dock and moorings will be near the existing one, Morrison said, but will be better and less steep that what are now at the Boat School.
Robert Peacock, chairman of the City Council, said Friday that the meeting Thursday night was lively with a lot of public participation.
“I think this solution is a winning combination for PMC … The Friends of the Boat School … Husson … and other tenants, and especially for the taxpayers of Eastport. I believe this will bode well for the future of Ocean Renewable Power Co. and tidal power and for the future of Eastport.”
“It’s a classic win-win that brings together two critical components of the area’s economic future — PMC and their manufacturing of tidal generating platforms and the Boat School and all that it means to Maine’s boat-building industry and the community.”