News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, September 19, 2013
Stonington selectmen discuss Hagen Dock, water company needs

by Alice Wilkinson

A variety of issues considered by the Stonington Selectmen at their September 16 meeting all boiled down to one thing—money.

Although the Stonington Sanitary District is a separate entity from the town government, because its lines snake through the town, what affects the SSD ends up affecting the town.

Gay Atkinson, operator of the SSD, was at Monday night’s meeting to update the selectmen about the problem on the Hagen Dock line. (See related SSD story in this issue.) Last week, the selectmen were told that the line was blocked and it might have to be opened up. That involves opening the surface of the dock, which already has a number of sinkholes in it.

Town Manager Kathleen Billings-Pezaris expressed her reluctance to become involved with any project on the dock in this fiscal year, saying there was no budgeted line for such work.

At Monday’s meeting after hearing that the camera crew which found the obstruction would return this week and repeated information about the sad shape of the pipe itself (rusty, corroding, immersed in salt water twice a day), the specter of digging up the line resurfaced. The worry is that the pipe could break, leaking raw sewage into the harbor, as well as cutting off sewers to Penobscot East and the Fire Station. The Fisherman’s Friend, the other business on the dock, will be closed by mid-October.

This time Selectman Evelyn Duncan astounded the other selectmen by saying, “We can take $100,000 out of surplus and still be OK.” Duncan, also a bookkeeper, is considered one of the most fiscally conservative of the selectmen, examining every expense in terms of budgets and costs.

This time, however, her reluctance to dip into surplus was overridden by the possibility of needing to do work on the dock in an emergency.

Still, the selectmen considered the state of Hagen Dock itself. Their discussion centered around not only what would happen if the SSD had to dig this year, but why the walls of the dock appear to have no “dead men” in them, and why the wall, according to Selectman Richard Larrabee, is already leaning in.

The discussion threatened to drift into history, saying that when the area behind what is now Penobscot Bay Press had originally been filled, it had been with all kinds of stuff, including engines, but the selectmen’s discussion got back to the wall, which none of them thought was 100 years old, although it dated to before they could remember.

Billings-Pezaris said that even before they could think about repairing parts of the dock and wall they would have to get permits from the Department of Environmental Protection and Army Corps of Engineers. “I’d want to get as much of that stuff behind us …[before] we even got an engineer to plan,” she said.

No decisions about the dock were made, as the SSD is not committed to any action right now.

Duncan brought up the Stonington Water Company, which is operated as part of the town. She explained that a grant the water company is applying to Rural Development for is complicated.

First, the grant part of the application can vary from 37 percent to 44 percent of the total amount needed, which she said is $1,200,000. The first $200,000 would be used to refinance existing loans, the rest for capital improvements.

Before the water company can access grant money from Rural Development, it has to expend $700,000, then the grant will kick in.

The $700,000 would have to be borrowed, and interest rates have just gone up a full percentage point, to 3.75. Further, Rural Development insists that it be a 40-year loan, although it can be renegotiated after a year. The type of loan sought would be one in which the water company can pay interest only on the amount of money it has drawn, leaving the rest in the loan. Duncan said the water company should look beyond the three banks (Bar Harbor Bank & Trust, Camden National and The First) it usually gets bids from.

After such big numbers, the cost of a new camera for the Fish Pier, either $25,000 or $12,000, depending on the type, might seem paltry, but the selectmen are not going for it. Since the Harbor Committee had wanted to spend up to $5,000 on a new camera, there is no possibility there will be one this year.

There are, however, six new lights on the pier, which are, according to Billings-Pezaris, “very bright.”

The selectmen approved the Harbor Committee’s recommendations for contracts for fuel on the pier and snow plowing. In neither case did the contract go to the low bidder.

They went to Heanssler Oil, currently providing fuel, and Tony Bray for plowing.

The vote was not unanimous; board Chairman George Stevens abstained because of personal conflict, and Selectman Chris Betts voted “no,” asking why they went out to bid if they were not going to take the lowest bid. Heanssler’s bid was “a few cents” over the other bid; Bray, at $100 per plow, is $25 per plow over the other bid.

The explanation was that in each case the committee was satisfied with the previous work done, and further, that Heanssler did not have a minimum amount he would deliver, and that he would always come when needed.

The board will next meet on Monday, September 23, 7 p.m. at the town hall.