White’s Island discussion to continue

Wed, 06/29/2022 - 8:45am

    Residents filled the conference room at Wiscasset Community Center Tuesday evening, June 28 to see plans for developing White’s Island into a recreational area, including replacing the footbridges that provided access to it. A Parks and Recreation committee had brought the project forward a few months ago during review of the 2022-2023 town budget.

    Parks and Recreation Director Duane Goud said the proposal was pulled to collect more information including cost estimates. “We’re here tonight to find out how the community feels about this,” said Goud. “We have a questionnaire we’ve developed that we hope you’ll fill out. We’d also like to hear any thoughts or suggestions you might like to share, which will help us moving forward.”

    Some, like Tom Eichler, expressed excitement about the project and hoped to see it move forward. “White’s Island when the footbridges were there was one of the best attractions in town. It’s a real disappointment that we’ve lost access to it,” he commented.

    Past selectman Judy Flanagan said she’d love to see the two footbridges replaced, reopening the island to residents and summer visitors. “It just comes down to figuring how much money it will take to get this done,” she commented.

    Others, like James Kochan, felt White’s Island should be part of a larger comprehensive plan for the use of the waterfront. This feeling was shared by Town Manager Dennis Simmons. “I don’t think this discussion should be going on outside the comprehensive plan,” said Simmons. He added, he fully supported the committee’s efforts. “But it shouldn’t be on a separate track.”

    Kim Dolce suggested, rather than spending money building footbridges, a better idea might be for the department to buy kayaks, paddle boards and canoes. “They could be rented to people who could paddle around the harbor and over to the island if they wanted to ... There’s been at least a 20-year gap since the island’s footbridges bridges were closed and left to fall apart. Why the interest now,” she asked.

    Selectman William Maloney said, with consumer prices rising every day, the timing was wrong. “Even if you pay for it up front, you’ll still need to maintain it,” he said. Maloney and others were also concerned about monies that may be needed to put in a safe crossing point where the causeway leading to the island crosses the railroad tracks.

    Peter Wells said the committee had several options to consider. The project, he explained, would be carried out in phases as grant monies became available.

    “We would be looking to get voter approval to set aside monies within our reserve accounts to be dedicated to the ... project.”  He said he hopes to pursue grant monies through the Maine Land and Water Conservation Fund. Questionnaires on the project are available at WCC. Before concluding, Goud said further informational meetings would be held and he encouraged more residents to get involved and let their opinions be known.

    According to Wiscasset Newspaper files, in the summer of 2016 the town assumed ownership of White’s Island after finalizing an agreement with Maine Coast Heritage Trust, a non-profit group with its main office in Topsham; the agreement stipulated the island be kept in its natural state and open to the public for daytime, low-impact recreational use. The island, about an acre in size, is in Bradbury Cove near the town landing and Wiscasset Yacht Club. It had previously been privately owned by the late William Phinney of Wiscasset. In February 2016, MCHT bought the island and footbridges from heirs of the Phinney estate, according to Wiscasset Newspaper files.