Jackson Lab, Bar Harbor to split road paving costs

Posted Oct. 11, 2012, at 4:19 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — The town and The Jackson Laboratory have agreed to split the cost of repaving a section of Schooner Head Road, which connects the lab’s main service entrance to Route 3, according to town officials.

Chip Reeves, the town’s public works director, said Thursday that the total projected cost of repaving the section of road, one-third of a mile long, is $52,000. The town and the lab each will pay $26,000.

Officials from the lab and the town first met a year ago to discuss the needed improvements to Schooner Head Road. After meeting several times to hammer out an agreement, the town and the lab signed a memorandum of understanding earlier this month about the project cost-sharing agreement.

Reeves said that trucks that come and go from the lab with all sorts of cargo — examples include heating fuel, food for the lab’s employee cafeteria, construction materials and supplies — use the Schooner Head Road entrance.

“That entrance off Schooner Head Road is their primary entrance,” Reeves said. “I’m very happy with [the agreement to split the repaving cost].”

Reeves said the lab also has agreed to hire a consultant to study what kind of uses or volume of traffic the one-third mile section of Schooner Head Road might have in the future. The study results are expected to project when the section of road might need to be rebuilt, whether it should have sidewalks or bike lanes, or if other infrastructure improvements might be needed in the right-of-way.

The impact that the nonprofit lab has on the town’s services, particularly on its infrastructure, has been an ongoing point of discussion for several years between town officials and lab representatives. The lab, which is the largest employer in Hancock County, employs more than 1,200 people at its Bar Harbor campus, roughly 25 percent of whom are local residents. Being a nonprofit organization, however, the lab does not pay property taxes to the town.

According to the town’s online tax assessing database, local property owned by the lab has a total estimated assessed value of $228 million.

Town documents indicate that the lab voluntarily paid the town $72,785 in 2011 as a payment in lieu of taxes, a fraction of the more than $2 million it would have to pay each year in property taxes if it were not tax-exempt. The 2011 payment in lieu of taxes represented an increase of $5,311, or 8 percent, from the $67,474 it paid in 2010.

The $26,000 the lab is contributing to the road project is not expected to affect whatever payment in lieu of taxes the lab may make to the town for 2012, according to Reeves.

Joyce Peterson, spokeswoman for Jackson Lab, said Thursday in a prepared statement that the road project is one of several local transportation projects the lab has financially supported during the past decade, even though lab employees account for only a “tiny fraction” of the daily vehicular traffic on and off of Mount Desert Island. She said the lab encourages its employees to carpool and has instituted a commuter bus system with Downeast Transportation, which takes about 200 cars off local roads each day.

The lab also has worked with Friends of Acadia and Acadia National Park to restore the old Red Path along Schooner Head Road, and has installed sidewalks connecting Main Street to that path, to provide a safe way to walk all the way from downtown Bar Harbor to the lab or Schooner Head, according to Peterson.

“Our goal is to be a good neighbor and citizen of Bar Harbor as well as Hancock County’s largest employer,” she said.

Reeves said this project is the first one he’s aware of in which the lab has helped cover the cost of a local road improvement, but the lab has contributed to other local infrastructure projects. A water tower west of Route 3 was built by the lab before the town took ownership of it, he said, and the lab previously has helped pay for sewer improvements near its campus along Route 3.

Jackson Lab is known internationally for its use of mice to research human disease and medical conditions. Each year it produces millions of specially bred laboratory mice that are used in similar studies all over the world.

According to Peterson, the laboratory has an annual payroll in Maine of $66 million and an average annual wage $54,270 per employee, not including benefits. As of Wednesday, she added, the lab had 30 vacant jobs that it is looking to fill, not including senior faculty research positions.

Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.

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