Voters approve matching funds for wharf repairs
Searsport — At a special town meeting Thursday, Aug. 23, residents agreed to use $149,347 from the town’s surplus account plus $30,000 cash on hand in the hope of securing $420,000 in state grant money to cover the cost of repairs at Hamilton Wharf.
Town Manager James Gillway said the wharf first suffered a significant amount of damage in a 1996 storm, when “the whole end of it was wiped out.”
At that time the town secured funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and along with some funding from the town, was able to repair the dock. A few years later, Gillway said, the wharf underwent some additional fixes, at which time the town planned future repairs to be completed in five phases.
When the repairs were completed in the late '90s, Gillway said, the portion of the wharf that represented phase five of the project was in the best condition. Now that portion of the structure is in the worst shape, said Gillway, and at a recent Select Board meeting Gillway said he was doubtful it could withstand another winter in its current condition.
Emergency Management Director Bud Rivers attempted to secure more FEMA funding to pay for the repairs, but, Gillway said, the federal government did not have sufficient funds to award any money to the town.
Gillway said the state has offered Small Harbor Improvement grants for many years, and a recent legislative change has made funding for those grants a part of the state budget. The stipulation that comes with that change, said Gillway, is that the proposed project must be “shovel-ready.”
“Our work is shovel-ready,” said Gillway.
While the required match for the SHIP grant is 20 percent, Gillway said, offering a slightly larger match may increase the likelihood of the town's securing the funding, which is in excess of $600,000.
“We’re hedging our bet a little bit,” said Gillway.
On a past occasion when the town applied for a SHIP grant, Searsport lost out to another community that offered a greater match amount.
The town has $30,000 worth of cash on hand to cover some of the match, and Gillway said the surplus account is currently carrying a balance of $1,398,652.
“It’s affordable,” Gillway said.
The match money cannot be raised through taxes, Gillway said, because voters already approved the municipal budget at the annual town meeting in March.
After some additional discussion, Moderator Mark Bradstreet called for the vote, and the article passed easily.
The article also stated that the money for the match would only be spent if the town secures the grant.