The Eastport Port Authority is discussing with the Friends of the Boat School possible options to take over the facility in order to help return educational programs there. The school graduated its last class of boatbuilding students in April 2012 and has not offered programs since then, in part because of conditions created by a lawsuit over the sale of the property.
During an executive session at the January 21 meeting of the port authority board, board members and representatives of the Friends of the Boat School discussed possible arrangements. Port Director Chris Gardner says the options of ownership, lease or partnership will be discussed with the Friends over the next 30 to 60 days. He says all of the options "count on the Friends remaining very active in trying to return educational opportunities to that facility."
While the port authority would invest in the buildings, it would not see any immediate financial return. "The only real win is to return the school to the facility," he says, although the port authority could use the facility for shop space, storage and maintenance work on harbor floats.
"There are educational opportunities that could still take place there with the port authority involved," he says. According to Gardner, partnering with another institution of higher learning will be looked at. In the past the school has been operated by Husson University and by Washington County Community College. "If the port authority can stabilize the physical plant, it will make it more attractive to an outside partner." Gardner also says Shead High School may play a role with the Boat School. "In strengthening the Boat School maybe we can also find a way to strengthen the high school. The high school can play a key role in how to market not only the Boat School but all of Eastport."
Gardner believes the "underlying wish from the community is to keep a portion of the facility as a public facility. The port authority is trying to help ensure that as well." While there would be "no financial win for the port authority in the short-term," the port authority's involvement would be "an investment in a community asset to save it."
Port authority board member Dean Pike, who is a member of the Friends, noted that he would be recusing himself during any votes concerning the Boat School.
Close call at port
During the board meeting, Gardner reported about a close call when the Star Luster was docking at the Estes Head terminal on Saturday evening, January 18. After the line boat had dropped off two linesman at the northern dolphin, the crew on the ship began winching in the lines while they were still under the line boat, with Dana Graffam and Joey Barnes in the boat. When the crew members on the Star Luster were alerted about the problem, that line was released, but then another line that was under the boat was winched up, flipping over the line boat. Both Graffam and Barnes were thrown into the water, with Barnes going under the overturned boat. Graffam then helped Barnes get to the boat, and tugboat captain Charlie Leppin, who saw what happened, carefully maneuvered in the large tugboat Ahoskie to take them aboard.
While both men were not hurt, Federal Marine Terminals and the port authority are reviewing safety measures in case a man goes overboard again. Gardner stated, "We assume it will happen again, so we want to be ready." He noted that the port authority's personnel, Graffam and Leppin, "did an exemplary job and made great decisions."
New office building
Concerning the new port authority office space at the corner of the breakwater and Water St., Gardner said that a small parking lot behind the building and then a larger upper lot for the public are planned. He estimates that the entire project might cost $300,000.
The board voted to go forward with obtaining quotes from subcontractors for different parts of the work, with the port authority acting as the general contractor. The board also authorized hiring CES Inc. for $15,000 to do site preparation engineering work for the office.
Coast Guard Station Eastport, which leases its building from the port authority, is proposing to install a new fuel system for its boats, with fuel tanks near the north side of the station, and a line running under the breakwater pavement to the boats. It was noted that the new system would affect the Eastport Chowderhouse's fuel business. The board voted to authorize the Coast Guard to proceed with the fuel system, but with Gardner to work with the Coast Guard so that a temporary system would not be placed across the breakwater shortly before the breakwater reconstruction project begins.
Gardner reported that because of the propane shortage the Coast Guard building has been switched back to using heating oil, which is now considerably less expensive. Board member Bob Peacock suggested that the port authority's buildings, including its new office building, should be set up so they could burn wood pellets, particularly once Thermogen's wood pellet plant begins operating in Eastport.
Gardner reported that a firm is interested in shipping wood chips through the port to Ireland, and he will be meeting with representatives next week to discuss the proposal.
The new spin pile design for the breakwater reconstruction project will save about $500,000 in construction costs but has increased final engineering costs by $45,000. The Maine Department of Transportation is willing to help with that cost by providing about $20,000. A four-month review period for a marine mammals study required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could "skew our timeline" for starting the project, Gardner noted. He is hoping work can begin in July or August, but the study might delay the start date.
At the beginning of the meeting, the board voted to retain the current officers for 2014: Jett Peterson as chair, John Sullivan as vice chair, Bob Peacock as secretary and Dean Pike as treasurer.