Local businessman offers to foot bill for planning on town property
St. George — A mostly muted public hearing on planning, permitting and design for the town’s property at 10 Cold Storage Road took an unexpected turn April 20, when businessman Rick Rockwell told the Harbor Committee he would be willing to “foot the bill” for the $28,600 of costs under discussion, in exchange for the lease of a small part of the waterfront property as a buffer to his family’s abutting home.
Rockwell owns multiple properties in town, including a home on a hill next to 10 Cold Storage Road, which he said he shares with family. He has also made his mark on properties elsewhere in Knox County, including Rockland’s Main Street.
Select Board Chairman Richard Bates, sitting behind Rockwell, called it a “very interesting proposal,” and said the board would be open to discussing such a deal with him.
The hearing was held to address a town meeting warrant article authorizing the town to appropriate the $28,600 for planning, permitting and design by planning consultant Noel Musson of Southwest Harbor.
The town meeting will be held May 9, with voting set for May 8.
Musson and Harbor Committee member Daniel Morris gave presentations on the plan for the property and the town’s reasoning.
Under a plan developed by town officials and Musson, the property purchased by the town in 2015 would become part public-access park and part open-ended commercial space on a waterfront plot in Port Clyde village. The property would be joined with the town landing, which abuts 10 Cold Storage Road, and spaces between two wharves on the property would be filled in to create more waterfront space.
Speaking after the meeting, Rockwell said he considered the town’s plan for 10 Cold Storage Road a “necessity” to cut down on chaotic traffic conditions in Port Clyde in the summer.
That opinion was not shared by all in attendance. Butch Thompson said he felt he was alone in his opposition, but he did not think it was the business of the town to invest in real estate and try to direct economic activity.
“What you’re talking about is a government enterprise,” he said. “I’ve always assumed that a government enterprise is a drag on the economy.”
He pointed to the former site of the Maine State Prison in Thomaston, which that town has not yet managed to develop, as an example of happens when towns get involved in real estate.
Thompson also said he does not think local property owners and taxpayers, who would pay for the current planning proposal, should have to subsidize services intended for visitors.
Eventual work on the property, not included in the $28,600 sum before voters this year, would likely include repair of an earthen wharf that is sinking into the harbor, as well the infill of spaces between the wharves.
Morris said the town’s approach to permitting would aim to ensure flexibility about how the town uses the property. Morris, Harbormaster David Schmanska and others pointed out that waterfront property in St. George is dwindling, limiting opportunities for public access.
“I don’t think we should take a shortsighted approach to this,” Morris said. “I hope people will be glad we did what we do in 30 years.”
Several of the roughly 20 attendees raised the issue of the Aqua Ventus wind project proposed off Monhegan, asking how certain it was that the project would run cables to 10 Cold Storage Road, a possibility that has been discussed for months.
Schmanska said the Aqua Ventus team itself does not have an answer to that question. Bates said Aqua Ventus would have to seek permits for cable landfall infrastructure on its own, and that the town’s plan for 10 Cold Storage Road would proceed independently of the wind project.
Reporter Dan Otis Smith can be reached at 594-4401 x123 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.