DEER ISLE, Maine — In the past eight months, Deer Isle has aggressively pursued the acquisition of a 2-acre parcel at the foot of the looming suspension bridge that connects it to the mainland.
Now, property in hand, the town has received $166,000 from two state agencies to move ahead with its plan to build what would be the only public ocean-access point in the town.
“Deer Isle is an island community that does not have access for its commercial fishermen and others to the ocean. That made their application very compelling,” said Dan Steward, manager of Maine Department of Transportation’s Small Harbor Improvement Program, which approved a $151,000 grant for the town at the end of October.
An additional $15,000 grant was recently approved by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to help pay for the design and engineering of the project at the site, known locally as “Bridge End.” A town committee convened to support the project also has raised $45,000 in matching funds, bringing the total funding for the project to $211,000.
Bridge End includes 324 feet of shore frontage along Eggemoggin Reach, a 300-foot pier and pier house, water deep enough to allow fishing boats to dock at shore, at least 10 moorings and sizable parking space.
The town in August accepted the property as a gift from Maine Coast Heritage Trust, which raised $400,000 from private donations to purchase the property from Ken Folk Enterprises. Residents voted 3-to-1 to accept the property, once MCHT acquired it, at the annual town meeting in March.
Efforts to reach MCHT for comment were unsuccessful on Wednesday.
For Selectman Lew Ellis, a supporter of the project, it’s about providing the kind of public ocean access people expect in an island town. He said all the shore access in Deer Isle today is located on private land. Even when landowners allow public access, there often isn’t adequate parking or access for boat trailers or parking.
“Would you like to live on an island without ocean access?” he said. “People who come here who don’t own a home or have beachfront property, they can’t get to the ocean. Now they will be able to, and it’s great.”
Loring Kydd, chairman of the Bridge End Citizen’s Initiative Committee, said the goal is to remove the current pier and replace it with a series of floats that can be removed in winter. He said that would provide easier access for boaters. The MDOT grant also will be used to construct a boat ramp for trailered vessels, kayaks and canoes.
The committee, working in partnership with MDOT, is in the market for an engineering firm now, Kydd said. The committee was charged by the Deer Isle Board of Selectmen to work on the project, but selectmen must give approval at each step of the way.
It will be awhile before the project is shovel-ready, Kydd said. The Army Corps of Engineers, Maine Department of Resources, Department of Environmental Protection and other agencies all must sign off on the plan, which has yet to be developed.
“We have many hoops to jump through before we complete this project,” Kydd said.
Ellis, the selectman, said the first priority will be the removal of the pier, which he said is unsafe, though it’s still used by a couple commercial fishermen.
“Some of the pilings are giving way,” he said. “The building on the outer end is giving way. You can stand on it and wiggle the whole thing back and forth.”
The committee and selectmen also must decide what to do with the former Sister’s Restaurant, which sits vacant on the property. But that decision is a ways off, he said.
Ellis said it will likely be next fall before on-site demolition and construction begins.
Maine DOT issued $1.4 million in grants to 19 communities through the Small Harbor Improvement grants, Steward said. About 40 communities applied for 47 projects, with a total request of $5.7 million, he said.
Deer Isle is the second largest recipient, he said, after Cutler, which received $160,000.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.