September 3, 2008

Contributions Sought for Junction Wharf Project


DOVER-FOXCROFT - Piscataquis County commissioners are contemplating a request from Greenville to contribute Unorganized Territory funds for the Junction Wharf's rehabilitation.

Commissioners thus far have been supportive of helping out the town with the project, but Doreen Shieve, fiscal administrator for the Unorganized Territory, told them Tuesday that such a funding request would need legislative approval.

Shieve was on hand to hear a presentation by Greenville Town Manager John Simko who is seeking a donation from the county to help the town fund the local commitment. The rehabilitation, which is estimated to cost $825,000, includes rebuilding a retaining wall, and adding another boat launch ramp and a parking area.

"We're trying to be fair to the town of Greenville because I don't feel the taxpayers of Greenville should shoulder all the burden for projects of a regional scope," Commissioner Tom Lizotte said Tuesday. "In a perfect world, the state Department of Conservation should have just taken that whole project and done it because it's a jewel for the entire state and its a resource for the entire state, it's the primary access point for the entire state."

Town officials were spurred to action because they recognized the wharf has some safety issues. To help fund the project, the town was awarded a $350,000 Municipal Infrastructure Trust Fund Grant, a $120,280 congressional earmark; a $62,300 grant from the Maine Department of Conservation for the boat launch and an $8,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture Canopy Project grant. In addition, residents voted to borrow $250,000 to complete the project.

It is the local commitment that Simko hopes the county will share, especially since businesses in Moosehead Junction, Big Moose and Harfords Point benefit from traffic the wharf generates, Simko said.

In addition to the economic benefit, the wharf, a small portion of which lies in the UT, provides access to the lake for all, including many who have camps in the UTs, Simko said. The only other free public access to the lake is the Rockwood public boat launch. Other launch sites such as those at Lily Bay State Park, Beaver Cove Marina or Big Lake Equipment charge a fee, he said.

Based on the number of camps in the Unorganized Territory and the acreage, the UT's donation would be about $1,600 a year for the term of the debt, according to the commissioners. If the funds were approved, the county's first payment would be a year from now.

Shieve told the officials that they could commit to only one year at a time since the Legislature could make funding changes from one year to the next. She recommended Greenville ask the town of Shirley for a donation since its residents also use the launch.

In a related issue, Shieve was told the county would like to purchase a 2-acre parcel on Depot Street in the UT for $65,000 for use as trailhead access for snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles. The property located near the Junction Wharf also could be used for boat trailers. The county has placed $1,000 down as an option on the property with funds from the county budget. The $1,000 will be returned to the county if the property is not purchased. It is the intent of the commissioners to purchase the property through grants, not county funds, Lizotte said.

"We're talking about developing our tourism economy - we have to create the infrastructure to support that economy so the county commissioners look at that as an investment in economic development that will not just help the town of Greenville but help all of the region," Lizotte said.

Commissioner Eric Ward said the property has one of two concrete turntables in the state. "That's quite a cultural heritage piece," he said. Ward said that historic piece could be incorporated into the trailhead.

Ward also asked Shieve whether the UT could help purchase a small piece of land to create a bypass for truck traffic around narrow Depot Street. The street is frequented by loaded tractor-trailers that go to and from Greenville Steam Co. and other businesses in the industrial park. Residents over the years have complained about the safety issue.

Ward, whose brother owns the piece of land that involves a sharp turn, said he would like to see the land purchased next year. The members in the Moosehead Industrial Park, which includes the town, appear willing to have the truck traffic rerouted through the park, he said.

A solution has been sought for several years and this appears to be the best option to date, according to Ward. "In the end, it could save maybe somebody's life," he said.

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