2015-04-16 / News

Town to seek bids for boardwalk

By Margo Sullivan

Although much of the island is drying after a snow-drenched winter, the path to Hull Cove on Monday was still muddy and wet. 
Photo by Tim Riel Although much of the island is drying after a snow-drenched winter, the path to Hull Cove on Monday was still muddy and wet. Photo by Tim Riel The Hull Cove boardwalk project came under scrutiny at the Town Council’s April 9 meeting. Ultimately, however, the councilors agreed not to send the grant money back to the state, and they will go forward and solicit bids.

Town Administrator Andy Nota said the topic landed on the agenda because “there seems to be some difference of opinion” about the project’s status and cost. Earlier, the Conservation Commission successfully applied for an $80,000 grant to build a handicap accessible elevated boardwalk over about 500 feet of wetlands. The town would contribute $20,000.

However, Nota said, Town Engineer Michael Gray spoke to an engineer who indicated the construction cost could go higher than $100,000. Nota said the total could cost as much as $150,000, so he wanted to “ensure there was still interest.”

“And we haven’t gone anywhere with the drawings,” Councilor Mary Meagher said.

“We have not,” Nota confirmed.

Also, no soil borings had been taken yet. If the project were to exceed the $100,000 price tag, Nota said, the town would ask the state for more financial help, as well as increase the town’s contribution.

For more details, he turned the discussion over to Gray.

Along with Town Planner Lisa Bryer, Gray said he discussed the boardwalk project and “what’s necessary to put the bid documents out.” The engineer who he spoke to handles projects for the Harbor Management Commission, and Gray asked for his opinion.

Originally, Gray said, the plan had been to solicit bids for a “design build” project, meaning “all the responsibility would be on the contractor to hire an engineer and build what’s designed.” However, the project is “relying on the soil for support,” so it seemed prudent to do the soil analysis, he said.

Gray also wanted to verify “everyone still agrees it’s a project that’s worth doing.”

“It’s relatively simple,” he said.

Meagher corrected a misperception about a handicap-accessible ramp at the end of the boardwalk. She said there would be a platform.

Councilor Michael White asked if the boardwalk was part of the settlement with the state to deal with vandalism near the Hull Cove right-of-way.

No, Meagher said, but it is going in “the area where that individual did wreak havoc.”

“This is complicated for me to be honest with you,” Council President Kristine Trocki said. “It was a grant already applied for.”

According to Trocki, the council was advised, but it wasn’t responsible for starting the grant application.

“The previous council had somewhat initiated it,” Meagher said.

Trocki said she could see problems, because there is no “adequate parking” near the right-ofway. She said questions have been raised about whether or not the project has the community’s support.

Meagher said some neighbors have objected.

“We’ve been working very closely with the neighbors,” said Maureen Coleman, chairwoman of the conservation board. Coleman said the project had been in the works for about 10 years. At about the midway point, the vandalism occurred.

She described the right-of-way as “a footpath through mud,” and indicated that families, surfers and fishermen “tramp through” and are “basically damaging the wetlands.” She said it would provide public access and safety.

As for the parking shortage, “We’re not trying to invite people from all over the state,” Coleman said. Also, she added, the town doesn’t offer “a lot of places where someone in a wheelchair can get to enjoy a view.”

Furthermore, Coleman said the Department of Environmental Management grant was significant.

“We got $80,000,” she said. “DEM thought this project was really competitive.”

The commissioners consulted the state coastal council about permitting.

“They did require a fairly high boardwalk,” she said.

The height, according to Coleman, will allow light to enter underneath so the vegetation can grow back. It wasn’t the design the commissioners originally wanted, but she believes the grant provides sufficient funding to build it.

Coleman said she would not want to be in the position of “going back” to the DEM for other projects if the town returned the grant.

The town received the award “almost two years ago,” she said. Trocki, however, cautioned that the cost might be “turning into more than double that.”

“It’s not that complicated,” Coleman replied.

Furthermore, if the cost did exceed the grant, the town could apply to other sources to make up the shortfall.

“It’s a pretty compelling project,” Coleman said.

Councilor Blake Dickinson said he voted against accepting the grant and still does not see the project as one of the council’s priorities. Dickinson also researched costs and said his findings “are very consistent” with Gray’s numbers, and he would “rather dish out money for roads” than pay for a boardwalk.

Turning to Coleman and the other commissioners, “I realize the pickle it puts you in because you worked so hard,” he said.

But Meagher said the town could only ascertain the actual cost by going out to bid. She recommended taking the next step and soliciting the bids.

“That would be my recommendation,” Trocki said.

“If it turns out to be more expensive, then we seek other funds,” Meagher said.

Trocki didn’t want to put the town in a bad light with the state agency, although she did want to know in advance about the costs.

“It seems like we’re doing our due diligence,” Coleman said.

Trocki said another issue is how to address all of the rights-of-way, not just one.

However, Hull Cove should be a priority, Meagher said, because the beach is used by a lot of people.

“This priority comes with $80,000 already in our pocket,” White said.

Nota said the town has “a couple of options.” One would be to go out to bid for a design-build project or hire someone to do the soil borings first.

Dickinson said he also felt the town should not be under pressure to accept grants from the state or federal government.

Chris Powell, former chairman of the conservation board, said the boardwalk relies on a proven technology and is simple and “doable.” He recommended going forward at least to see the bids.

Conservation Commissioner Michael Brown urged the councilors to “not overlook what a beautiful thing this could be.” You can’t even walk the right-of-way today, he said, due to the mud.

White said the project should not be dismissed as a “money pit,” and suggested taking a vote to continue with the preparation of the bid documents. Trocki, however, said the council did not need to take any action because its earlier vote to go forward was still in effect.

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