For nearly a million and a half dollars, including a possible grant of up to half a million, a project on and near Wiscasset’s White’s Island could restore access to it with footbridges estimated to together cost about $348,200 and linked by an estimated $50,000 railroad crossing, all disabled-accessible; and for about $613,300 have trails, a picnic area, canoe and kayak portage, a pavilion for small gatherings and entertainment such as a two-piece band; signage on the island’s history; and a nautically themed playground with a ship to climb on and swing from, selectmen and the budget committee heard March 29 from Parks and Recreation Director Duane Goud and landscape architect Peter Wells.
“Adults can also (climb onto the ship),” Wells said. “I’ll be there, for sure.” He said he hopes the island will become a jewel, another part of the village for pedestrians to explore. In a phone interview March 30, the Wiscasset resident said he has donated about $24,000 in services and will continue to donate services, except for bid plans and specifications if he is involved in that work.
Wells told the panels, the playground would have a rubber surface, not wood chips he said would float away in a flood. The island, about an acre at low tide, would still have fishing and a beach, he said. Counting a mud flat, the island is about five acres, he said.
Sidewalks on Fore Street are proposed; and paving the gravel parking lot at the end of Pleasant Street and raising the lot about a foot. It is poorly graded and drained, it floods and the rip rap is failing, Wells said.
A handout estimated the sidewalks and parking at $422,500, bringing the project’s total cost to $1,434,000 including the possible Land and Water Conservation Fund grant of up to $500,000. Midcoast Conservancy has been contacted about possibly helping the town seek other grants, Wells said.
Selectman Terry Heller called the proposal “a beautiful plan, exactly where we want to go.”
Some panelists raised cost concerns. The town’s potential million dollar share is more than it can afford right now, and some of the work like the playground could wait a year or two, Selectman Pam Dunning said. “I’m all for getting people back out to White’s Island, but I’d rather see the roads paved,” she said.
The project could be done in phases, Goud said. With its deteriorating bridges, White’s Island, once home to a boatyard, is an eyesore, Goud said. “Reestablishing the island as a destination and a historical park I think is important.” Work there has been talked about for about 20 years, and will cost more the longer the town waits, he said. “If we don’t start somewhere, we’ll never start.”
Selectman Kim Andersson said two phases, starting with replacing the dilapidated bridges, would be fine. “Love it,” she said, looking toward the design on display. “Thank you so much. Really great work.”
Before the town can apply for the LWCF grant, voters would need to commit to the match, Goud said. In-kind items such as disposal costs and other services can count toward it, according to the presentation, and the handout that read in part: “The 2008 Comprehensive Plan recognized the island as a key recreation/natural resource, and the town rec department and conservation commission agree: It’s the perfect spot for walking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, nature watching, and history lessons.”
Budget committee member Kim Dolce suggested starting with kayak racks on shore and the island, then seeing what the interest is. As for the proposed bridges, Dolce said expecting wooden ones in the water to be low maintenance is naive.
Asked about that in the phone interview, Wells said wood could be pressure treated and a wood-plastic composite might be used that lasts for decades.
Town Manager Dennis Simmons said he got a call opposing the paved parking lot.
The project would need OK’s from environmental agencies and Maine Department of Transportation, according to Wells and Goud.
Selectmen’s Chair Sarah Whitfield wanted no vote that night because the board had just gotten the proposal. Selectmen voiced support for putting a question on the June town meeting warrant. The size of an LWCF grant and local match to propose were not set. Selectmen plan to talk again April 5.