Councilors vote to rebuild crumbling Belfast wharf

Posted Dec. 04, 2013, at 7:26 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — City councilors voted Tuesday night to rebuild and expand Thompson’s Wharf after hearing that it is in bad repair, but they will not seek state grant funds to help do it.

The facility has been primarily used for long-term, seasonal boat rentals since it was turned over to the city 17 years ago, and Harbormaster Kathy Pickering told councilors at the regular meeting that it is in “very bad shape.”

“The metal fastenings are corroding so badly that planks are starting to pop up,” she said. “There’s not a whole lot holding it together at this point. It needs to be rebuilt.”

After a fairly lengthy discussion, the councilors unanimously decided to go ahead and fund a project to double the dock’s slip capacity, from 400 to 800 linear feet. While the number of seasonal slips would be cut from 10 to eight, it would increase the wharf’s ability to host commercial charter vessels and transient boats. The project is estimated to cost about $185,000, according to Pickering.

But the council also decided against applying for a $47,500 grant from the state’s Small Harbor Improvement Program, which several said would place unwelcome restrictions for 20 years on the usage of the wharf.

Councilor Roger Lee registered his opposition to reducing the number of seasonal rental slips available.

“It doesn’t make sense to me,” he said.

Councilor Nancy Hamilton said in the discussion that if the wharf doubles in size, it’s likely that slip rental incomes also will double from the current $25,000.

“Two years of rentals will make up for the [Small Harbor Improvement Program] money,” she said.

In other business, the councilors heard an update from Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge about the city’s status as the port of entry for the Waterville Foreign Trade Zone. He said that for some businesses, participation in a foreign trade zone can confer “substantial benefits,” which include delaying or reducing duty payments on foreign merchandise and an exemption from paying state or local inventory taxes.

The program is supervised by U.S. Customs and Border Protection under the United States Homeland Security Council. In addition to Waterville, Maine has three other active zones: Auburn, Bangor and Madawaska.

“They haven’t been heavily used in the state of Maine or heavily marketed,” Kittredge told the council.

Councilors voted to contribute $5,000 to a Central Maine Growth Council initiative that would help communities increase participation by regional businesses.

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