WHEN HARPSWELL took possession of Mitchell Field from the Navy in 2001, it came with the water tower — originally installed in the 1950s — and a pier. NATHAN STROUT / THE TIMES RECORD

WHEN HARPSWELL took possession of Mitchell Field from the Navy in 2001, it came with the water tower — originally installed in the 1950s — and a pier. NATHAN STROUT / THE TIMES RECORD

HARPSWELL

The Friends of Mitchell Field have taken their fight to save the Mitchell Field water tower to court.

The nonprofit, formed several months ago in a bid to take over the water tower, filed suit against the town of Harpswell on Wednesday afternoon in their latest effort to prevent demolition of the structure from going forward.

Frequent Friends of Mitchell Field spokesman Robert McIntyre said the group filed suit in superior court Wednesday. A copy of the lawsuit was not immediately available, and the group’s lawyer did not return a request for comment before press time.

Town attorney Amy Tchao confirmed that she had been informed of the lawsuit, which asks for a preliminary injunction against the water tower and an expedited hearing. Tchao said she would be in court in Portland today for a conference of counsel on the temporary injunction.

When the town took possession of Mitchell Field from the Navy in 2001, it came with the water tower — originally installed in the 1950s — and the pier. Demolition of the pier is currently in progress and removal of the tower, which hasn’t been used at least since the town inherited it, has been studied and discussed for a number of years. There was an unsuccessful vote to do so in 2012 and a planned vote in 2016 was withdrawn by selectmen after being presented with a community petition.

Residents at a March Town Meeting voted to demolish the tower. Since then, Friends of Mitchell Field has worked to get the results reversed.

The Friends gathered signatures calling for a revote this spring, proposing a warrant article that would give the nonprofit control of the water tower to oversee its maintenance and potential repurposing. When selectmen denied that petition, the Friends attempted to use an obscure provision of Maine law to circumvent selectmen by having a notary public issue a warrant for a special Town Meeting in August.

Since then, the town and the group have been in a standoff. On the advice of Tchao, selectmen deemed the warrant invalid and picked a contractor for the tower demolition.

In response, the Friends of Mitchell Field threatened a lawsuit in a letter to the town last week.

The selectmen met Tuesday morning to discuss the lawsuit in an executive session. According to Tchao, the group’s lawyer asked the selectmen to postpone any decision on a contract to demolish the tower until after the Aug. 10 meeting called for by Friends of Mitchell Field.

In a 2-1 vote — with Selectman David Chipman opposing — selectmen chose not to postpone any action and to move forward with a contract to demolish the water tower if it was available at their Thursday meeting.

“We found that there is nothing here of substantive value that changes anything,” said Selectboard Chairman Rick Daniel, “and we would not be inclined to as requested hold off any signing of our contract on Thursday if there is one available.”

Daniel added that the charges in the letter were lacking in “substantiveness or facts.”

The Friends of Mitchell Field, however, are moving forward with their meeting without the support of the town. As of July 13, they had issued a revised warrant changing the date of the meeting to Aug. 10. The group is planning to hold a public hearing this Saturday in advance of the meeting. McIntyre said that the group sent out mailers about the water tower to every resident of the town, which they should have received Wednesday.

“I believe that the public hearing process and the election, whether it’s on Aug. 11 or Aug. 10, is an invalid and illegal process,” Tchao reiterated Tuesday.

A full explanation of her reasoning is available at harpswell.maine.gov.

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