Welders dismantle the Mitchell Field water tower Thursday morning. (Nathan Strout / The Times Record)

HARPSWELL — Piece by piece, welders dismantled the Mitchell Field water tower Thursday morning.

The Friends of Mitchell Field had requested a temporary restraining order to halt demolition, but with no word from the court on Thursday morning, the contractor started tearing down the tower as scheduled.

The demolition signals the close of a contentious period for the town, as a small group of residents fought hard to save the water tower while elected officials backed a vote taken at the annual town meeting in March to destroy the water tower.

Following the March vote, a small group calling itself the Friends of Mitchell Field gathered signatures calling for a re-vote on the water tower demolition proposal. The group maintained that the water tower would be the perfect location for cellphone equipment. Much of the area around Mitchell Field has spotty cell phone service at best, and the group hoped to bring in a company to install cell phone equipment on the tower to improve that service. No company ever expressed sustained interest in using the tower for that purpose.

Ultimately, the town rejected the petition, stating that the matter had been decided at town meeting and a re-vote wasn’t needed. The Friends of Mitchell Field filed a lawsuit in Cumberland Superior Court at the end of July, alleging that the town was wrong to reject their petition. At the same time, the town moved forward with selecting a contractor to demolish the tower.

On Sept. 5, Justice A.M. Horton ruled in favor of the town, stating that the selectmen acted reasonably in rejecting the group’s petition, and the group’s subsequent attempt to hold a town meeting without the town government’s approval, was invalid. On Monday, the group filed an appeal, along with a request for a restraining order to stop Thursday’s demolition.

Midway through the morning Thursday — with the water tower already partly dismantled — the court denied the Friends of Mitchell Field’s restraining order request. The court found that the group’s appeal was not likely to succeed on its merits.

“We were very pleased with the law court’s decision,” said Town Attorney Amy Tchao. “This is the third time a court has denied this group’s request for relief to prevent or delay the demolition of the water tower. We believe that Justice Horton reached the right decision on every point of law and fact, and the law court clearly agreed.”

With the temporary restraining order rejected and the water tower demolished, Tchao said she hoped the remaining appeal would be dismissed as moot.

“This is an unmitigated disaster for the town of Harpswell at an enormous cost,” said frequent Friends of Mitchell Field spokesperson Robert McIntyre.

McIntyre has frequently criticized the town for how much it’s spent in legal fees defending itself from his own group’s lawsuit. While the exact figure wasn’t available Thursday, Town Attorney Amy Tchao said the town had likely spent more on the lawsuit to date than on the demolition of the water tower, estimated at just under $40,000.

Despite his criticism of the selectmen, McIntyre said he was cheerful and relieved that the water tower was removed and the ordeal was over. McIntyre noted that the Friends of Mitchell Field would meet soon to discuss the future of the organization, whose main focus since its inception has been saving the water tower.

In a statement, Selectboard Chair Rick Daniel expressed hope that the Friends of Mitchell Field would move past the lawsuit and begin working with the town on the future of Mitchell Field.

“It is my hope that the Friends of Mitchell Field will withdraw their appeal and consider assisting the town in such efforts as raising funds for the ramp and floats at Mitchell Field and to share their time and knowledge of cell service with the Energy and Technology Committee,” said Daniel. “Harpswell works best when it works together.”

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