File Photo

Rebuilding of remote research station begins

File Photo

Damage to structures at Mount Desert Rock from high waves during Hurricane Bill is clearly evident.

MOUNT DESERT ROCK — The classroom, workshop and generator building at College of the Atlantic’s marine research station on this remote offshore ledge is being rebuilt five years after nearly being destroyed by storm surges from Hurricane Bill.

The two-story frame building known as the generator shed had been an important part of the research station, said Sean Todd, director of the Allied Whale research program at COA.

A large section of the ground floor was washed away in the storm, leaving a corner of the upper floor hanging in space. A couple of supports were placed under the corner to keep it from slumping farther.

“However, over time, the building has continued to wrack so that it was no longer level and no longer plumb,” Dr. Todd said. “The crew we have out there now is focused on stabilizing it.”

The main building on Mount Desert Rock, the former light keeper’s house built in the 1930s, was inundated with water during the storm but suffered little structural damage. Dr. Todd said that may have been due to the presence of the generator shed on the south side of the house.

“It seems that the really bad storms come from the south, so the generator shed receives the worst of the weather first,” he said. “Because of that, we know that whatever building we put back there needs to be super, super strong.”

He said the temporary supports are being replaced by eight-by-eight studs that are pinned to the concrete floor and the bedrock underneath. And the new walls will be far sturdier than the building’s original plywood panels.

“This is going to be the building equivalent of a tank,” Dr. Todd said.

The marine research station is named for the late Edward McCormick Blair, a longtime member of the COA board of trustees and generous supporter of the school’s marine research program. Since his death in 2010, “It has proven incredibly difficult to raise funds for repairs to the island,” Dr. Todd said.

Earlier this year, Forrest and Jacobin Mars gave $425,000 to cover renovations to the generator shed and boat ramp, replacement of the boat house that the storm destroyed and minor structural improvements to the light keeper’s house.

“I am enormously grateful for their generosity and will be forever indebted to them,” Dr. Todd said.

Work on the generator shed began in mid-August, several weeks later than originally planned.

“I made the assumption that we could get a lot of the materials locally and fairly off the shelf, but that has not been the case,” Dr. Todd said. “By the time the materials and supplies started to arrive at the college to get out to the island, we realized we were in the middle of seal pupping season.”

The waters around Mount Desert Rock are home to an estimated 1,000 grey and harbor seals.

“I take students out there every year, and the seals are always a guaranteed research subject,” Dr. Todd said. “So I don’t want to do anything to threaten that population. We felt that if having a lot of boats out there and lumber being moved around and construction noise was going to affect the seals, that wasn’t something we wanted to do.”

He said an earlier start to construction also might have disrupted some of the educational programs on Mount Desert Rock this summer.

The construction crew currently working on the generator shed consists of three COA alumni and part-time faculty members who have experience building on islands. They are Dan DenDanto, Matt Drennan and Scott Swann.

“We are blessed with a team that really knows what they’re doing,” Dr. Todd said.

He said the process of using hydraulic jacks to lift the corner of the second floor of the generator shed an inch at a time and then placing supports underneath to keep it from falling made for “a degree of nervousness because you’re dealing with a very heavy object that’s not sitting on a very stable base.”

“You can’t afford to make a mistake that has medical consequences out there because it’s so far from a hospital. So, we had to move very slowly and deliberately and carefully.”

Mount Desert Rock is a barren, granite island that at normal high tide measures less than two acres. Located about 23 miles off Mount Desert Island in the Gulf of Maine, it houses the most remote marine research facility on the East Coast. That, COA scientists say, makes it ideal for studying whales and other species of marine life.

The federal government deeded the tiny island to COA in 1998.

The 70-foot granite lighthouse built in 1847 was not damaged by the 2009 storm.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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