MOUNT DESERT — Voters at last year’s Town Meeting authorized the town to spend up to $160,000 to bring the Bait House on Dodge Point Road in Seal Harbor up to code so that lobstermen could continue to use it.
“Then we became aware that we had to raise the floor elevation two feet without increasing the (height) of the building,” said Public Works Director Tony Smith.
“Think of jacking up the entire building so the floor elevation is two feet higher than it is now. The roof line must then be reduced by two feet in elevation to where it was originally. This will be done by rebuilding the roof and reducing its slope.”
The reason for all this, Smith explained, is the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s requirement that the floor be one foot higher than flood elevation.
“The town ordinance then requires another foot in elevation on top of that for a total increase of two feet,” he said.
To cover the extra cost, voters at this year’s Town Meeting on Aug. 11 will be asked to authorize the use of an additional $70,000 from the Capital Gains Reserve Account.
Voters also will be asked if they want the selectmen to lease the Bait House to the Seal Harbor Fisherman’s Association for a term of five years, which has traditionally been the length of the lease.
Both the selectmen and the Warrant Committee have voted to recommend approval. But Smith said that, during the Warrant Committee’s deliberations on the matter, two people suggested that the lease should be for only one year.
“I quite adamantly disagree,” Smith told the selectmen at their July 20 meeting.
“I don’t know how a lobsterman is going to plan his work if, in the tenth month of a 12-month lease, he’s got to start looking for an alternative space in the event his lease isn’t (renewed).”
While the town of Mount Desert owns the Bait House, the tiny lot on which it sits belongs to David Rockefeller Jr.
Attorney Margaret Jeffery has written to the selectmen on Rockefeller’s behalf, expressing his opposition to a lease of less than five years. She noted that the Rockefeller family built the Bait House, along with a ramp and float, in the 1950s and gave them to the town “for the sole purpose of fishing.”
“For over 60 years, Seal Harbor’s fishermen have used the Bait Shack,” she wrote.
“The ramp and float are no longer there, but an outhaul and mooring marks the location of a skiff that is used to access lobster boats in the harbor. Such reliance leads to the continuance of the historical use of the Bait Shack and its character steeped in fishing tradition.”
As for renewal of the lease, Jeffery wrote, “The Fishermen’s Cooperative requires a long-term commitment from the Town of Mount Desert and the surrounding neighbors in order to plan and ensure access to the water by its lobstermen in the years to come.”
Smith told the selectmen that only one lobsterman currently uses the Bait House.
“But I think the fanfare running up to this August Town Meeting may get some more people interested in using that building,” he said.
Two years ago, the town was notified by its insurance carrier that to maintain coverage on the Bait House, a structural evaluation of the building must be undertaken, and any serious deficiencies would have to be corrected.
Smith said at the time that at least one deficiency was quite obvious.
“Some of the posts that used to be on the ground, holding up the building, are two feet off the ground,” he said. “There’s rot, but it can be saved.”
Two weeks ago, Smith told the selectmen, “If we don’t make the improvements, we lock the door and probably tear it down. We’ve always touted the fact that we are a fishing community, and this is one way to maintain that.”
The Bait House is not taxed because it is owned by the town, but its value is currently assessed at $3,000. The .05-acre lot owned by Rockefeller is assessed at $487,900.
Along with supporting the fishing tradition, Smith said there is another reason to heed Rockefeller’s request to renew the Fishermen’s Association lease on the Bait House for five years. He said that, before the Bait House was built in the 1950s, lobstermen used the Rockefellers’ boat house on the adjacent lot.
“The Rockefellers decided they would like to use that for themselves, so instead of just telling the lobstermen to go away, they gave the (Bait House) to the town for the use of up to 12 lobstermen in the co-op,” Smith said.
Fast forward more than 60 years, and the town of Mount Desert and the Maine Department of Transportation (DOT) are now looking at rebuilding Peabody Drive, from Asticou Azalea Garden in Northeast Harbor to Seal Harbor beach, within the next few years.
“The only way that could come to fruition is with private money being chipped in, and I have already been told there are interested parties,” Smith said.
“I’m not saying we would be held hostage by donations by any stretch of the imagination, because the town will be paying for some of this, as will the DOT.
“But if we accept gifts [such as the Bait House] and then change the terms by which we use whatever it is we are given, I think some of those gifts may dry up. I don’t want to snub our benefactors.”