News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, July 19, 2018
Town to plan response for fish pier upgrade

by Rich Hewitt

The town of Stonington has been awarded a $30,000 coastal planning grant and will use it to develop a plan for future upgrades to the commercial fish pier.

The selectmen and harbor committee have discussed the possibility of expanding the fish pier and dredging a portion of the harbor to improve access, and, according to Town Manager Kathleen Billings, the federal Shore and Harbor Grant program will help finance an investigation into the possibilities. There is a lot involved in a proposed expansion, Billings said, including addressing parking concerns, dredging, utilities and the potential for sea level rise.

“This will get us to the point where we can decide what to do with it overall,” Billings told selectmen at their July 12 meeting. “This will get us to the point where we can ask to get on the Army Corps of Engineers list for dredging.”

The town plans to hire a consultant, most likely Bob Gerber of GEI. Gerber is the consultant who worked with the town to develop its comprehensive plan and GEI did work on the original fish pier design, according to Billings.

Over the next year, the consultant will work with the town to assess the condition and current uses of the pier and develop a plan to meet the town’s goals which include expanding the fish pier to increase waterfront access for fishermen, increase parking, and preparing the fish pier to withstand rising sea level for several generations. That assessment will include reviewing the dredging needs in the federal channel and other areas surrounding the fish pier, its off-loading stations and skiff tie-up needs, and truck access. The grant application calls for development of three alternatives to address the fish pier needs and sets a goal of doing it in a way that “minimizes damage to the marine environment” and “without putting an insurmountable burden” on Stonington taxpayers.

The consultant also will identify which local, state and federal permits will be needed for whichever option the town pursues.

The grant requires the town to kick in an additional $30,000. Billings suggested that the town funds come from three different town accounts: $10,000 each from the fish pier account, the harbor account and the newly established working waterfront reserve.

Tax rate drops a little

Selectmen set the 2018 tax rate at .01610, just a slight drop from the 2017 tax rate. The new tax rate was one of three options presented by Selectman Evelyn Duncan at the regular selectmen’s meeting on July 2. Duncan explained that they reached that tax rate by drawing $75,000 from surplus to ease the impact on taxpayers. The town’s state valuation also rose to $213,003,520, a slight increase which, she said, will help on the revenue side of the budget.

The new rate will result in the tax of $1,610 on a property assessed at $100,000. That’s a decrease of one dollar from last year.

“We’re still dropping,” said Selectman John Robbins. “For as much work as we’ve done here, that’s pretty good.”

Film crew coming to town

The selectmen agreed to allow a film crew to film on public property in town as part of a television ad for an insurance company. The shoot will take place on July 24-25, according to Erik Burbank, a site consultant from Gorham working for RSA, the company producing the television ad which, he said, will feature a lobster fishing story line. Burbank said the company will work with one family—the Joyce Olsen family—and already has signed a contract to film at her home. But, he said, they also want to film some scenes of the town—including along Main Street and at the fish pier and Hagen Dock.

He assured the selectmen that the company is reputable and that the town will face limited liability in allowing the crew to film in town.

Selectmen were warm to the idea, but wanted to make some minor changes to the standard contract before they signed it. Burbank and Billings planned to go over those changes and selectmen were to sign the document last week.

In other action, the selectmen appointed Bill Shepard to serve as the town’s representative on the school board. Shepard was subsequently sworn in and then resigned from the position the following day, leaving the board to continue a search for a new committee member. Those interested should contact the town office.

The selectmen also accepted the winter sand bid from Skip Eaton, the sole bidder for the contract. Eaton’s bid was $18.45 per cubic yard, up more than a dollar from last year. The increase reflects several factors, including the increase in diesel fuel. The town generally uses about 1,500 yards of sand in a winter.