July 15, 2013

Should Kittery throw life buoy to old rescue station?

Petitioners ask the town not to demolish the island building, but there are obstacles.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Sam Reid, president of the Wood Island Life Saving Station Association, formed the nonprofit group in hopes of getting the town of Kittery Point to transfer ownership of the building, in background, so it could be restored and turned into a museum.

Photos by Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Roger Troudeau of Belgium, left, walks on Wood Island with his daughter Kate. The Wood Island Life Saving Station behind them was built in 1908 and staffed by civil servants who watched for ships in distress near Portsmouth Harbor.

LIFE SAVING STATIONS IN MAINE

The U.S. Life Saving Service, the predecessor of the Coast Guard, built the Wood Island Life Saving Station in 1908.

The station was taken over by the U.S. Navy during World War II to protect the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard from German submarines. The Coast Guard, which the Life Saving Service became in 1915, took back the station after the war and ran it until the 1950s, when a new station was built in New Castle.

The island and building were considered surplus until the 1970s, when the federal government gave the property to the town of Kittery, under the condition that it could not be sold or leased and that the town would keep it accessible to the public.

The Wood Island Life Saving Station was the last of 13 stations built in Maine, said Kirk Mohney, assistant director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. Mohney said the stations were put up starting in 1874 “in areas with significant maritime traffic where the potential for ship disaster was high.”

Nine were on offshore islands – Cross, Browney’s, Crumple, Great Wass, Little Cranberry, Whitehead, Burnt, Damariscove and Wood Island. The others were at Quoddy Head in Lubec, Popham Beach in Phippsburg, Fletcher’s Neck in Biddeford Pool, and in Cape Elizabeth, Mohney said.

At the commission’s last count in the 1980s, 11 stations remained.

The Wood Island Life Saving Station was listed by Maine Preservation last year as one of the state’s most endangered historic resources.

– Leslie Bridgers

Pelletier would accept a donation from the association to restore the building for that purpose, but doesn't want the town to give up control of the island.

"A gift is not, 'I'll do this for you, but you've got to give me this,'" Pelletier said.

He said the Wood Island Advisory Committee recommended demolition of the building because it was a hazard and there wasn't apparent public support to pay for its restoration and maintenance. Now that residents have spoken up in favor of that, he said, he's willing to see if they'll pay for it.

"Is your wallet where your mouth is?" he said.

But Reid's group has said it would take care of the money. It already has $100,000 in pledges and there isn't even a project. Reid said the group is willing to make concessions, like not having the dock. He believes the town's problem is that it doesn't trust the group to do what it says it will, to keep it open to the public, to have control.

Pelletier said that's one thing he could agree on.

"There is a deficit of trust there, and that has only deepened," he said, citing the petition drive as an attempt to circumvent the council.

According to Reid, that was the point -- to let the people speak for what they want.

"It's obvious the citizens of Kittery want this building," he said.

But as long as nothing happens, the building will continue to deteriorate. That's the other thing they can agree on.

"Obviously, every day that goes by is not good for a wooden building on a small island off the coast of Maine," Reid said.

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

lbridgers@pressherald.com

 

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