New developments underway at Front Street Shipyard, Mathews Bros.

On the Belfast waterfront, a stage set for Harbor Walk and more

Tue, 04/23/2013 - 8:30am

    BELFAST- The waterfront was quiet on Sunday, but from Steamboat Landing to the Footbridge, evidence of the coming Belfast Harbor Walk was everywhere. The $1.5 million pedestrian and bicycle promenade has been a work in progress for several years, but until last week when workers broke ground at Steamboat landing, it had existed only on paper.

    City officials anticipate the majority of the basic walkway will be completed by the end of June, with amenities like lights, benches and landscaping added during the summer and fall. City Planner Wayne Marshall said work will initially be focused in the areas between Thompson's Wharf and Heritage Park. Landscaping at Steamboat Landing may also be included in the early stages, he said.

    By last weekend, the area in front of the old Maskers Theater Building on Front Street had been cordoned off as a staging area for equipment and materials for the walkway including massive piles of rough fill, sand and mulch. Central Maine Power is scheduled to add several utlity poles on Front Street in unrelated efforts by Front Street Shipyard to bring new power  lines to the former Belfast Boat Yard property. Marshall said the new infrastructure will require some channeling in the vicinity of the Harbor Walk path, making that area especially busy.

    "You'll see a couple things going on there at the same time," Marshall said, as a kind of dry understatement.

    In Heritage Park, concrete storm water drainage components — manholes and the catch basins that will eventually be hidden underground — were set out on the grass. Marshall said the areas of the walkway north of Main Street will incorporate a more extensive underdrainage system, some of which was installed last fall. The pieces in Heritage Park, however, will constitute primarily upgrades that tie into the existing system, he said.

    Inside the park, wooden stakes marked the future locations of lampposts, among other details. The path there follows the old rail bed before making a detour up to Front Street made necessary by several private properties in the path of a direct route to Steamboat Landing.

    Plans show the north end of the walkway passing through Front Street Shipyard and connecting with the Armistice footbridge, but the actual connection may take a while, according to Marshall. Today a boardwalk wraps around the Shipyard's most northern building — site of the old sardine cannery — but stops abruptly just shy of the footbridge.

    Marshall said ramp that will ultimately span gap is undergoing some final design revisions, but it may be three to four months before the connection is complete. In the meantime, he said, workers will likely tackle the segment of the walkway between the Shipyard's travel lift pier and the beginning of the boardwalk.

    For better or worse, the gap at the north end of the Harbor Walk will likely slow the amount of foot traffic through the Shipyard while the company finishes a pier, currently under construction, to support a new 485-ton travel lift that will work alongside the current 165-ton lift. The travel lift pads sit in the planned path of the Harbor Walk.

    A new building is in the works to accompany the larger vessels coming in once the new lift arrives. Plans are scheduled to go before the city's zoning board of appeals on April 23 for a flood plain zoning variance similar to the one the Shipyard received for its largest building, so-called Building 5, located across from the water treatment plant.

    Plans show the new building — Building 6 — located on the property that is currently the Front Street municipal parking lot. At 69 feet tall, it would stand roughly 14 feet taller than Building 5. Current plans show a slightly smaller footprint, though additional drawings submitted to the planning office show a next-phase addition to Building 6 that Shipyard President JB Turner alluded to last year, which would make the building longer in one section. 

    The city has received several grants to help fund the Harbor Walk, including a $250,000 grant from Maine Department of Transportation and $150,000 Community Development Block Grant. A $400,000 Communities for Maine's Future grant received by the city was withheld by the LePage administration, though the administration has since promised to pay the grant awards in 2014. Last year the city took a tax anticipation note to cover that amount. Additionally, the city borrowed $800,000 from Maine Municipal Bank for the project, and has spent $240,000 on engineering fees to date, Marshall said.

    The city planner said the $1.6 million estimated cost of the project does not include those engineering fees. The construction contract was awarded to Maine Earth of Hampden for bid of $1.14 million, which includes most costs with the exceptiong of signage and kiosks. Marshall said roughly nine subcontractors will be working under Maine Earth. 

    Any questions or concerns about the Harbor Walk, Marshall said, should be directed to him at 338-3370 x25 or

    This November 2011 depiction of the Harbor Walk shows the general route of the walkway. The current plan includes some changes, Marshall said. Most substantially, a second set of stairs leading from Front Street down to Steamboat Landing park that is show on this drawing did not make the final cut.

    Ethan Andrews can be reached at