HARPSWELL — Dissatisfied with a court ruling that would allow Harpswell to tear down the Mitchell Field water tower, members of the Friends of Mitchell Field are filing an appeal.

The group, which formed this year in hopes of taking control of the water tower to save it from demolition, lost its lawsuit against the town last week when Superior Court Justice Andrew M. Horton ruled that Harpswell had acted reasonably in rejecting a petition from the Friends of Mitchell Field this summer, and that an unauthorized town meeting called by the group was invalid.

“The Friends of Mitchell Field believe there are several grounds for appeal of Judge Horton’s judgment and we intend to pursue them,” said spokesman Robert McIntyre.

Town attorney Amy Tchao said that the group filed a notice of appeal Wednesday and plans to file a motion for a temporary restraining order Monday to prevent the demolition.

Tchao did not think much of the appeal’s chance for success.

“We’re confident that Justice Horton got the decision right and the Law Court will see it that way,” she said.

The water tower, which hasn’t been used in the nearly two decades since the town acquired it, has been the center of a heated monthslong battle between the town and the small group of locals, costing the town tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees so far.

Despite years of discussion over what to do with the water tower, no cost-effective use for the tower presented itself. The town found that there were cheaper ways to get water to the site than to refurbish the more than 50-year-old tower.

While Friends of Mitchell Field has hoped the structure would be used to house cellphone equipment and improve the area’s spotty cell service, no company has expressed sustained interest in using it for that purpose.

At the annual town meeting in March, voters were presented with a choice: They could temporarily give the tower to a group like the Friends of Mitchell Field to manage, repair and repurpose, or they could have the structure demolished and be done with it. They chose the latter.

In the wake of that vote, Friends of Mitchell Field launched a petition to call for a revote, with a slight language adjustment specifying that the Friends of Mitchell Field would be the group to take over the tower. In April, they collected enough signatures to present to the selectmen. Deciding that it was inappropriate to overrule a decision made at a town meeting, the selectmen promptly rejected the petition.

The Friends of Mitchell Field claimed that was illegal, and called their own town meeting using a little-known provision in Maine law, which says that if selectmen unreasonably refuse a petition, citizens can present a petition to a public notary to call a town meeting. Under the advice of Tchao, the selectmen deemed that town meeting invalid.

The Friends of Mitchell Field sued.

Last week, Horton found that not only were the selectmen justified in rejecting the petition, he also agreed that the Friends of Mitchell Field’s town meeting was invalid. It is that decision that the group is appealing.

Unless a restraining order is granted, the selectmen expect to have the tower torn down on Sept. 20. Horton had moved the lawsuit through quickly in order to accommodate the September demolition date, which had already been worked out with the contractor.

Preliminary work will begin early next week.

The selectmen also claim that because the contractor has already mobilized for the demolition, the town will lose money if the project is delayed or canceled because of the appeal.

The town will seek damages from the Friends of Mitchell Field to cover any additional costs that might result from the appeal.

“We are disappointed to hear that the Friends of Mitchell Field have decided to take an appeal of Justice Horton’s decision in favor of the town upholding the March 10 town meeting vote,” said Selectboard Chairman Rick Daniel. “It is unfortunate that (the group) is seeking a third court hearing at the eleventh hour to delay removal of the water tower and cost the town even more in legal fees and costs.”

“It is time to accept the decision of the voters and the court and bring closure to this lawsuit,” he said.

Nathan Strout can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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