$500,000 needed

Wood Island Life Saving Station to be renovated

Union Leader Correspondent
October 27. 2013 11:11PM
The Town of Kittery, Maine, has reached an agreement with the Wood Island Life Saving Station to save the historic building in Portsmouth Harbor. (Gretyl Macalaster)

KITTERY, Maine — After years of inaction and contention, an agreement has been reached to save the Wood Island Life Saving Station in Portsmouth Harbor.

The Kittery Town Council recently voted to allow the nonprofit Wood Island Life Saving Station Association to restore the exterior of the building with the town retaining ownership of the building and the island.

The next step is for the town to apply for Brownfields funding through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean hazardous materials in the station, including asbestos.

WILSSA will also begin a capital fundraising campaign to secure about $500,000 for needed exterior repairs and repairs to the seawall around the structure. Cleanup and restoration of the station is not expected to begin until at least 2015.

WILSSA will have five years from the date of the federal funding award, if received, to complete the repairs.

Both WILSSA and the town have expressed optimism about finally reaching an agreement.

In July, supporters of saving the station packed into Town Council chambers for a public hearing on two petitions signed by more than 850 people and submitted by WILSSA in support of the organization gaining ownership of the building and the island in order to restore the largely abandoned property.

Many people said they supported restoration of what has become an icon in the harbor, but wanted the town to retain ownership of the property. After consulting with an attorney, the town council determined the petitions were illegal and rejected them, and the two sides went back to the drawing board.

Russell White negotiated for WILSSA and an agreement was voted on during the Oct. 16 Kittery Town Council meeting.

Town Council Vice-chairman Jeffrey Pelletier said the plan was developed after lengthy discussion between the Wood Island Advisory Committee appointed by the town council and WILSSA.

The agreement will allow WILSSA to restore the former life-saving station to its former state, at which point they will turn the building back over to the town for the public's enjoyment.

At the end of the project, the town and WILSSA will discuss a management plan for the island, including the possibility of doing interior renovations and creating a maritime museum. If the town of Kittery decides it wants to do something different with the management of the island, WILSSA will have the opportunity to be first in consideration for managing the property for up to 10 years.

"I think at the end of the day we felt that that was fair enough. If you are going to raise the money and complete the repair of the building, then that provides some expectation of being involved in its future," Pelletier said.Councilor Frank Dennett was the only one to vote against the agreement. He said he worried the town could be binding itself to the costs of asbestos abatement.

The town can terminate the agreement if Brownfields funding is not received after three attempts.

Sam Reid, founder of WILSSA, said following the July meeting the organization needed to decide whether to contest the decision to reject the petitions, or to attempt to restart the conversation with members of the town council.

He is glad they opted for the latter and were able to reach a compromise.

"The compromise is that we are talking about the exterior of the building only at this time, and from our perspective that's a good thing because there have been discussions about this project that would have required us to raise all funds for the whole project before we could begin at all," Reid said.

He said raising the funds for the exterior restoration is an easier hurdle for the organization to meet. He said he thinks the conversation about the reuse of the interior of the building will be easier once the organization has proved itself.


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