A public forum on the future of Fort Gorges drew a large crowd of passionate supporters Wednesday night, most of whom oppose the kind of commercial plan that a developer would like to introduce to Portland’s historic island park.

The meeting hosted by the Portland Parks Conservancy and Parks Commission wrapped up with a paper ballot vote on what the audience would like to see happen at the 2-acre city park on Hog Island ledge in Casco Bay.

The results: 76 would approve a combination of public and private funding to support preservation, but no commercial funding; 59 would allow limited or temporary activities with minimum impact to support the fort; 10 would allow commercial development to pay for full restoration of the fort.

Three people want to leave the fort alone and let it deteriorate naturally, even if it means closure.

More than 150 people turned out to a forum in Portland on Wednesday on the future of Fort Gorges, the city’s historic island park. Public interest was high after a developer spoke of his dream of building a restaurant, pub and bed and breakfast there. Penelope Overton/Staff Writer

The results of the vote are nonbinding, but will help guide the conservancy and commission as it starts to consider whether to allow any commercial activity to occur at the park to help fund a $420,000 plan to stop the fort from crumbling, said Conservancy Director Nan Cumming.

“Everyone involved with the fort wants to do right by it,” Cumming said. “It belongs to the people. So it makes sense to listen to what the people want. We are a long way from any decisions – in fact, there isn’t even a formal proposal to be considered at this time – but the fort needs our attention.”

Developer Mike Dugay wants to build a restaurant, a brewpub and a bed-and-breakfast at the park with financial help from private investors. He has met with city officials to talk about his idea, which he says would help fund the preservation needed to stabilize the fort, but no official proposal is pending.

Mike Dugay holds a rendering of his vision for developing Fort Gorges into a destination that includes a restaurant and easier access to the historic fort. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

The idea has sparked public outcry, both from the Friends of Fort Gorges as well as many kayakers who visit the island every year. A city official at the forum said Dugay has been physically threatened by some opponents since his idea went public.

The fort, with six walls of granite topped by a layer of dirt and overgrown vegetation, is open to the public but access is limited because the only way to get there is by private boat. The massive walls contain cavernous rooms and stairwells, and some interior spaces are closed off to the public

Diane Davison, a 25-year Munjoy Hill resident and former head of the city parks commission, called for creation of a task force to seek grants and private donations to preserve Fort Gorges so the city wouldn’t have to consider privatizing such a special place.

“Privatization should never be under discussion,” said Davison, whose comments sparked a wave of nods among the crowd, many of whom wore Friends of Fort Gorges stickers. “It should never be on the table, any more than it would be for any other historic park in Portland.”

Munjoy Hill resident Karen Snyder asked why the city couldn’t fund the entire stabilization project, which officials estimate to cost about $420,000, rather than make the Friends of Fort Gorges come up with half, especially when it is willing to spend so much more on other parks.

She noted the city is planning to spend more than $16 million to turn a vacant parking lot on Thames Street into Portland Landing, which is geared more toward tourists than residents. If the city can afford this, it can afford to pay $420,000 to stop deterioration at Fort Gorges, she said.

“There seems to be less and less public services revenues allocated to public services,” Snyder said. “The fire engine on Munjoy Hill was removed. Crumbling sidewalks. Crumbling streets. … Can we get someone from the city to prioritize our parks, our public services, rather than a tourist park?”

Oakdale resident Laura Mills is worried about the environmental impacts of developing the island.

“Even if it’s adding a little bit of a dock, how deep is the water there? How much dredging will be needed to be done?” Mills said. “My concern, as a 22-year-old resident of Portland who is hopefully going to be spending the rest of her life here, is keeping the environmental integrity.”

Fort Gorges has been city property since 1960, when it was turned over by the Navy and designated a local landmark. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and in 2013 moved to the top of Greater Portland Landmarks’ “Places in Peril” list, which means renovations are sorely needed.

 

 

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