PORTLAND – The Portland Public Art Committee appears ready to remove “Tracing the Fore,” the unpopular piece of landscape art in Boothby Square.

Committee members said Wednesday that they have become “exhausted” dealing with the high-maintenance public art installation.

The grass-and-steel sculpture is supposed to mimic the rolling waves of the Fore River, but city maintenance crews have fought a losing battle against crabgrass and other weeds since the piece was installed almost four years ago.

Although it has yet to take a formal vote, the Public Art Committee reached consensus Wednesday that “Tracing the Fore” should be removed.

The committee was undecided about whether the stainless steel parts of the piece should be taken to a scrap yard or moved elsewhere in the city, possibly near the Ocean Gateway terminal on the waterfront. The committe believes the piece would work better in an open area rather than a closed area like Boothby Square.

The sculpture was installed in 2006 for $135,000.

Matthew Cardente, a real estate broker who owns property overlooking Boothby Square, told the committee that he is confident he can raise money to remove the sculpture and replace it with more conventional landscaping.

It would cost $15,000 or less to remove and scrap the sculpture, according to a tentative estimate.

Shauna Gillies-Smith, a Harvard professor and a renowned landscape architect, designed “Tracing the Fore” to evoke waves on the Fore River, which ran along Fore Street before the shore was filled in to make room for railroad tracks along the waterfront.

The sculpture’s stainless steel waves emerge from a bed of sculpted fescue grass, which is supposed to grow tall and rustle in the wind. The problem is, the grass has never taken. Instead, it has been dominated by weeds.

Although Gillies-Smith told committee members previously that she would work with them to find solutions, including a plan for regular maintenance, she did not attend Wednesday’s meeting. Committee members were not pleased with her absence.

The city has the legal right to remove and destroy the sculpture, but it can’t install it elsewhere or make changes without the artist’s permission.

When the committee selected the piece in 2004 as part of a competition, Gillies-Smith said the slow-growing fescue grass would require hardly any maintenance, said Jack Soley, chairman of the committee.

On Wednesday, a lawn maintenance expert told the committee that it could cost more than $3,000 a year to maintain the sculpture properly. The committee’s annual budget is $50,000.

“We were sold a product we did not know how to care for,” Soley said. “We will be saddled with this for the rest of the life of the piece.”

Dave Domingos, owner of Northeast Lawn & Golf Services in South Portland, also said that maintenance workers should stop using weed whackers and hover mowers to maintain the height of the fescue grass. Instead, they need to use a tool similar to grass shears, he said.

People who work in the area call the sculpture “razor park” and worry that somebody will trip over it and get hurt, Cardente said.

Cardente gave the committee a letter signed by about 70 people, most of whom own businesses near the square. The letter, which includes photographs of the overgrown and unkempt grass, said the sculpture doesn’t fit with the historic nature of the square, and its stainless steel structure poses a danger to the public.

Cardente said he’s “ecstatic” that the committee appears ready to remove the sculpture.

The committee will vote Oct. 20 after getting a better idea of how much it would cost to remove “Tracing the Fore” and sell it for scrap. It also wants estimates for storing it and installing it elsewhere.

Although the committee will not take public testimony at its next meeting, people can comment by sending e-mails to city planner Alex Jaegerman at [email protected]

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

[email protected]