AUGUSTA — An especially steep, precarious and highly visible waterfront parcel between the historic Arsenal property and the Kennebec River has been mowed and weed-whacked back into shape.

A granite wharf and steep banking behind it had become overgrown with weeds, grass, shrubs and a few small trees this summer, as state officials balked at the payment sought by a previous contractor to maintain it, which they said was about double the cost charged previously.

Jim Goodwin, owner of Benton-based Goodwin Unlimited, saw a Kennebec Journal article about the lot not being maintained as appears to be required by the state’s agreement with the owner of the adjacent Kennebec Arsenal property, and he contacted state officials to offer his services to mow the site.

The state Bureau of General Services then invited other local contractors to bid on the job, and Goodwin’s bid, of $500, was lowest. The only other bid, Goodwin said, came in at $2,300.

“They said, ‘How soon can you do it?'” Goodwin said of the state selecting his much lower bid.

David Heidrich Jr., director of communications for the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services, which includes the Bureau of General Services, said the previous contractor who mowed the spot doubled his price because of concerns about being able to mow the steeply banked property safely.

Goodwin, having now mowed and weed-whacked the site with a crew of three workers, agreed safety is a concern there.

“It is kind of a hazardous area to do,” he said. “It’s not an easy one. You lose a tractor over there, it could be a serious injury.”

Goodwin, whose company already mows the adjacent arsenal property for owner Tom Niemann, said he and his crew used a new type of zero-turn mowers which have low centers of gravity to do most of the 1,000-foot-long riverfront spot. In the steepest spots, including a roughly 150-foot-long section with a steep drop-off, they used weed-whackers to cut the overgrowth down. It took them a whole day.

“It took us a while to do that,” said Goodwin, who has been in the mowing business for 26 years. “A job like that, you have to bring every piece of equipment you own, and try different things. One thing I found, trimming it, it’s hard to keep your footing. Baseball or soccer cleats might work well.”

Heidrich said the state agreed to have Goodwin mow the site again next month and maintain the site through October next year, for $500 each time.

Goodwin said he probably didn’t make any money mowing the site, by the time expenses are figured in, the first time. But he thinks now that he has an idea of how to do it, he’ll make a little money on future mowing there.

“I’m not going to get rich doing it, but I like the property. It’s a beautiful spot over there, and I like it looking good and people enjoying it,” he said. “I saw that it was getting bad. And I was right there anyway,” mowing the arsenal property, he said.

In July, City Manager William Bridgeo expressed concern about the prominent spot, visible from Memorial Bridge and the Kennebec River, being allowed to grow back in.

The area, including the more-than-180-year-old granite wharf and granite retaining wall, was restored in 2005 and reclaimed from overgrowth that all but hid it from view, as part of a larger, nearly $600,000 project. The project was funded by a $295,000 Save America’s Treasures grant from the National Park Service and National Trust for Historic Preservation, $200,000 from the state and $95,000 from the Capital Riverfront Improvement District, a now-inactive state and city partnership.

Heidrich said that because of the safety hazards of mowing the steep banking, only one contractor submitted a bid to do the work earlier this year, at twice the previous cost. He said that prompted the state to look at other ways to mow the property, including putting it out to bid again or having state employees do the work.

He said the department looked into burning the grass off in a controlled burn or replacing the grass and weeds growing there with rocks and doing some hardscaping, but state Department of Environmental Protection officials said those methods couldn’t be used because they wouldn’t do an effective enough job of retaining stormwater at the site.

Instead, the state jumped on Goodwin’s bid to mow the site for $500. The work probably will be put out to bid again after the agreement with Goodwin expires next October.

The terms of a 2007 use agreement between the state and Niemann specifies the state “shall maintain the Wharf Parcel in good order and repair and in a reasonably neat and clean condition, including periodic mowing and removal of brush as necessary.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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