Gary Anderson

Gary Anderson

The Bath Planning Board has embraced Bath Iron Works’s mitigation proposal of $160,000 in city improvements as offset for its new $25 million facilities project.

In considering BIW’s offer, one board member expressed being “underwhelmed” by BIW’s largesse. Talk then quickly turned to the warranty of what few trees would be planted, as not to continue looking into a pygmy pony’s mouth.

At passage, not wanting to further impede BIW’s application, the board settled for having won partial flexibility in dotting “i”s and crossing “t”s at a later date. So, if the City Council agrees, $100,000 would go to redesigning the North Yard parking area and $65,000 for yet-to-be-determined accoutrements at South End Park.

That is a 0.64 percent bone from a $25 million industrial impact expenditure.

The improvements are nominal, standard fare — another exercise in thinking inside a traditionallyboxed approach.

The lion’s share of the offset goes toward beautification of the Leeman Highway/ Downtown nexus. That is all good for the city, which desperately needs improvement at that nexus, but it is little solace for immediate neighbors to the project or all those passing BIW’s Great Green Monster daily.

Those in the shadow of BIW can walk up to Route 1 or down to the “dog park” for visual improvements deferred from immediate neighborhood enhancement. The thinking here remains unchanged: The Washington Street BIW corridor is an industrial zone; therefore, urban blight is unavoidable, and should be expected and accepted by those living there.

The truth is that the zone is equally residential, that Washington Street is a secondary or tertiary gateway into downtown, and industrial facades need not be heinous.

That the Washington Street BIW gateway corridor is rivaled by the Route 1 corridor as a negative persona of the City of Ships brings up another sad example of community inertia in supporting what its city planner champions as “quality of place.”

This thinking is exactly why some of us in the south end chose an end-run around city governance in order to achieve real significant mitigation at the time of BIW’s Land Level Transfer Facility expansion.

Maybe 0.64 percent of a project’s cost in offsets meets, or even exceeds, whatever the set standard is. But BIW, once truly Bath-based and devoid of “from away” detachment, should do better.

It should always have done better in its TIF dealings. The “dog park” and noise compliance should not have been so hard won, or won through the necessity of bypassing the city’s role.

The sea change in community corporate relationship that occurred through that grass roots dialogue, realized so positively 14 years ago, is sadly forgotten now, by all parties.

I think of Wiscasset’s benefit from Maine Yankee, of MBNA’s example of community improvement during its tenure in Camden, or how L.L. Bean’s exponential footprint succeeds as being the best dressed elephant in the room, and then I wonder why BIW continues to take the bottom-line route rather than the high road.

As the Bath City Council deliberates, there remains an opportunity for BIW and the city to step up to the plate and bring about real significant improvement along Washington Street — not by more ineffectual attempts to hide such a mammoth presence, but to provide it with as attractive a presentation as possible by actually making the Washington Street corridor more inviting along its periphery.

When planning consultant DeWan Associates was given this challenge, their presentation was to show slides of the corridor’s jumble of poles and wires and to simply remark: “What is this all about?”

The city’s solution was to move the curb and install street-end architectural elements as distractions. CMP’s bottom line eyesore was left standing. What if BIW eliminated all the telephone poles along its Washington Street periphery, from Route 1 on down to the “dog park,” removing that overlay’s additional aesthetic insult? That would be a serious and truly effective makeover.

Line burial, though expensive, is routinely used as a solution in aesthetic offsets. It was to be a permit requirement when an enormous high rise condominium project was to be built on Bath’s downtown waterfront. BIW’s own design for the $100,000 improvement along their main parking lot includes side walk capacity for “when” power lines are finally buried along that stretch.

This proposal would be a major step up in BIW’s offset allotment, but with all the public financing from Bath, past and proposed, I think BIW should be pressed to finally do the right thing.

Given BIW’s power consumption, and as penance for their infrastructure’s ubiquitous poke in the eye, Central Maine Power Co. should be able to find some amortized payment arrangement.

Or, the CEO of BIW’s parent company, General Dynamics, paid $18 million in 2012, could simply pick up the tab by forgoing two weeks’ salary.

GARY ANDERSON, of Bath, was a community liaison between Bath’s south end and Bath Iron Works during BIW’s Land Level Transfer Facility expansion.


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