Reed & Reed equipment sits at the end of Mitchell Field, where the old pier is noticeably absent, in August. (Nathan Strout / The Times Record)

HARPSWELL — With the Mitchell Field pier gone, Harpswell is once again turning to focus on what to do with the space left behind.

The future of Mitchell Field has been a perennial issue in Harpswell since the town first acquired the abandoned fuel depot from the Navy in the early 2000s. In the nearly two decades since, the area has mostly been used for recreation, with some paths and access to a small beach, as well as a community garden.

In 2015, the town’s Mitchell Field Committee issued recommendations for waterfront improvements. The committee called for the preservation of the area south of the pier as a recreational area, while a public boat launch and a seasonal floating pier would be constructed north of that area. There was one thing standing between the town and that vision — the pier.

The pier had sat largely unused since the Navy abandoned the site about three decades ago. In that time, the pier had fallen into disrepair, and portions had collapsed into the ocean. Knowing that cleaning up and removing the pier would only get more expensive as more of it collapsed, the town decided to proactively demolish and remove the dilapidated pier. That $3 million project began over the winter, and by the end of the summer the pier was no more.

Now, three years after the Mitchell Field Committee issued its recommendations, the town is finally in a place where it can start working toward the waterfront improvements that were set out therein. To that end, the town has begun taking steps in that direction while the committee has worked to remind people what the plans for the waterfront are and solicit buy-in from the community. To that end, the committee held a public meeting on Monday to update residents on the plan and gather input on any concerns. The committee will host another meeting on November 8 at 6 p.m. at the town office for those who couldn’t make the first one.

“What we’re trying to do with those meetings is get public input. Do we still want to do this?” said committee Chairwoman Jane Covey.

The committee has also reached out to Harpswell’s fishing community to get an idea of their needs and desires for the waterfront. The Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association conducted a survey of Harpswell fishermen, which showed strong support for a floating pier and boat launch at the site.

“We’ve got very strong information from the fishing community in Harpswell that they would like to see the boat launch both for recreational use and commercial use,” said Covey. “That’s information that we never had before.”

The survey, which reached 54 Harpswell fishermen, backs up anecdotal information the committee has collected over the years and gives it more confidence in moving forward with the plan.

The town has taken steps toward making the pier and boat launch a reality. It has applied for two matching Small Harbor Improvement Program grants.

The floating pier system would be the first project to receive grant funding, which is slated for 2020. would be funded in the next round of grants. That grant would cover 50 percent of the estimated $292,500 it would cost to build the pier, with the town responsible for $146,250.

The estimated boat ramp cost is $394,507. If approved, the grant would cover half that and the town would foot the bill for the rest. Part of the town’s portion would be covered by $45,000 in material saved from the pier demolition project. That project would be slated for 2021. The Mitchell Field reserve account currently has $175,000, said Covey. She also suggested that a citizens’ group could raise private funds to help pay for the improvements.

Some locals have voiced their concern that Mitchell Field should retain the area’s dual-purpose for recreational and commercial activities.

“(People said) we want this to be a place where we can continue to take walks and walk our dogs and have our kids in a safe place where they can ride bicycles or skateboards,” said Covey.

Covey said the key moving forward is to find balance between supporting Harpswell’s fishing industry and a public space for recreation.

“A question for the town is does the town want to support Mitchell Field waterfront as a working waterfront in character of the town as it has been? Does the town want to support the fishing business, which has been historically absolutely essential to the town?” asked Covey. “And how do we do that in a way that set of interests as well as recreational interests?”

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CORRECTION: This story has been edited to reflect that the floating pier grant is scheduled for 2020 funding, with the boat ramp coming the year after.

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