Committees approve maritime center project

Sep 7, 2016

Three Dartmouth committees gave approval for the third iteration of the Padanaram maritime center project on September 6.

The proposal would call for the construction of a 530-square-foot public maritime center and pier at the corner of Bridge Street and Water Street. The project includes a public deck to give residents and visitors to Padanaram a place to enjoy the harbor, a public boat ramp, two bathrooms and two showers, and a 14-by-14-foot, multi-purpose room to be used as a welcome center and seasonal office for the harbormaster.

The project would be funded by a $1 million grant from the Massachusetts Seaport Economic Council, $200,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding, and the remaining $16,700 would come from a variety of town budgets, including the Dartmouth Department of Public Works and Waterways Commission budgets.

CLE Engineering President Susan Nilson gave a brief presentation to the Select Board and Waterways Management Commission on changes to the proposal since the last discussion in August. Some of the changes include establishing a 25-foot buffer between the proposed development and the abutting property, and transforming the public deck from a rectangular 47-by-14 feet to a trapezoidal +/- 20-by-33 feet.

The Waterways Management Commission voted unanimously to proceed with the project, while the Select Board took the opportunity to discuss the plans.

Select Board Chairman Stanley Mickelson expressed his disapproval of the project, saying it does not make financial sense to continue. He added after the meeting that there is still a lot of confusion surrounding the project that still needs to be worked out.

“I was voted for this position to make sound financial decisions, and I believe right now it’s not the right time to make this decision. It’s like putting a round peg in a square hole,” Mickelson said.

Vice Chairman Frank Gracie, however, noted that the project would help improve Padanaram, and coupled with the $1 million grant, makes a very compelling deal for the town.

“While we may end up with sidewalks to clean up the area, I think Padanaram deserves more than that,” Gracie said, referencing a separate project by DPW to improve sidewalks on Elm Street. “I think this is a very good plan. The town doesn’t have the money for this so if we can still get the grant, I think it’s evolved into a very good use of that area.”

After each member spoke, the board voted 4-1 to proceed with the project. Mickelson was the only member to vote against the project.

The proposal stimulated the most debate from the Community Preservation Committee, which determines if the committee should allot $200,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to the project.

According to committee Chairman Howard Baker-Smith, the proposed center must meet CPA standards to be considered a recreational area, which would make it eligible to receive CPA funding.

Baker-Smith said the multi-use nature and evolving project plans complicated the committee's determination, so it ultimately decided to defer the question of compliance with the CPA to town counsel. The committee voted 6-2 to grant a maximum $200,000, subject to town counsel’s word on the eligibility of the project.

The project will next go before Town Meeting voters in October. The Finance Committee is set to review the plan and give a recommendation on September 15, before Town Meeting. The revised state grant application is due November 1.

The Select Board, Department of Public Works, and the Waterways Department also continue to fine-tune a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that would establish each group’s role in building and maintaining the maritime center.