SEARSPORT, Maine — What’s a seafaring town without a safe and functional wharf?
Town Manager James Gillway said Wednesday that Searsport is in dire need of serious wharf repairs. Residents will vote at a special town meeting, beginning 6 p.m. Thursday night, at Union Hall, whether to approve spending up to $475,000 to match two grants to help fix the municipal wharf.
“It’s easier to tell you what’s not wrong with it,” he said. “It’s at the point where we need to repair it, whether we get state funds or not.”
The town dock is used by Searsport’s small commercial fishing fleet, sport fishermen, recreational boaters, tourists, walkers and others. Gillway said it was initially built in the 1800s as a steamboat wharf. Over the years, the structure was “damaged and rebuilt, damaged and rebuilt,” he said.
Nearly a quarter century after a 1970s rebuild, a 1996 tropical storm severely damaged the structure. After that, Searsport received federal and state funding to fix it, and the community began a five-phase rebuilding process, which has not yet been completed. So far, the town has rebuilt a 50-60 foot section at the very end of the dock and another portion closer to land, Gillway said.
But much remains to be done to the structure, a wooden cribwork filled with ballast stones and a concrete platform poured on top.
“Our wharf now is a cribwork held in place by pylons,” Gillway said.
Searsport has applied for a $62,752 federal boating infrastructure grant and a $250,000 small harbor improvement grant from the state.
Searsport’s share of the matching funds, if voters approve allocating the money this week, will come from available surplus funds and not through additional taxes, Gillway said.
“The cost benefit for the money we’re spending is well worth it,” he said. “Our wharf enjoys a great deal of support from the community. Most of the business people and merchants know it’s an economic engine. Most residents know it’s well-visited. They enjoy it themselves. I’m very hopeful that people will come out and support the facility.”