The Kennebec Arsenal property in Augusta, photographed June 24. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — The City Council has declared the historic but neglected Kennebec Arsenal property dangerous and given the owner of the property at least 90 days to address concerns.

The concerns include mold infestation, peeling lead paint, boarded doors and windows, collapsed ceilings, electrical connections that might pose a fire hazard and plumbing that does not work.

If the owner does not take action within the required time period, which could be extended from 90 days to 150 days with the authorization of the city’s codes office, Augusta could begin a legal process that could involve the city’s having the work done, billing the owner for the work and, if the owner does not pay the bill, taking the property.

Councilors voted 7-1 on Thursday to declare the property overlooking the Kennebec River, one of the most prominent privately owned properties in the city, dangerous under state statutes. The property is also listed as a National Historic Landmark.

The council amended the proposed order, however, to remove references to the buildings on the site being unstable or at risk of collapse, saying there was no evidence of that in testimony that took place at two long City Council meetings (July 28 and Aug. 4), much of it taken up by Tom Niemann, the primary owner of the firm that owns the property, and witnesses called by his lawyer, who is defending Niemann’s care of the property.

Councilors also added a claim, not among the initial allegations, that the property’s electrical connections might constitute a fire hazard.


“It’s unsafe because of it being a fire hazard, because of the lack of water and accessibility for the Fire Department in case there were to be a fire and a blatant lack of concern for the workers going in there and doing that work,” At-Large Councilor Abigail St. Valle said.

Stephen Langsdorf, the city attorney, said there is no question there has been inadequate maintenance, dilapidation or abandonment of the Arsenal’s buildings, terms used in the state’s dangerous buildings statute, and the buildings are not in any way suitable for use or occupancy in their current state.

Langsdorf said Niemann’s estimates for what it will cost to restore the property are “egregiously low to do this kind of work,” and little to no work was taking place there until a few months ago, when the city initiated the dangerous buildings proceedings.

Eric Wycoff, the lawyer for Niemann, said the buildings are not dangerous or unsuitable for use or occupancy and pose no hazard, but if the city deems them as such, he asked that the owner be given up to 36 months to address the concerns and make renovations.

This July 2010 aerial photograph shows the Kennebec Arsenal in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

“That would be better for everyone,” Wycoff said. “The buildings would be redeveloped. The buildings will be preserved.  They will become productive. And any issues that might exist will be resolved.”

At-Large Councilor Raegan LaRochelle, the lone vote against declaring the buildings dangerous, said: “For me, these buildings don’t constitute dangerous buildings. My main concern was people being hurt on the site, and the danger the buildings may present. I’m encouraged Mr. Niemann is making efforts to start working on some of these properties, and hope he continues.”


Bob St. Onge, owner of Jarr Management Inc. and a general contractor since 1975 who is working with Niemann on the Arsenal project, said renovations needed on most of the Arsenal buildings are not complicated, requiring what he described as mostly cosmetic work — repainting walls, redoing plaster and refinishing floors.

He also said the heating, electrical and plumbing systems in the buildings need be reviewed and returned to working condition.

St. Onge, who in the past has replaced roofs on many of the complex’s buildings, said some of the electrical system is overloaded and will need work, but is safe. He also said the property as a whole is not a fire hazard, because the buildings are mostly granite and are secured.

He said Niemann’s latest plan for the property, which includes developing it for 18 residences, was three years in the making and submitted recently to city codes officials.

While Niemann and those working with him have not sought permits for the overall project, they have a permit to repair the porch on the Burleigh building, and have two applications filed with the code’s office to do work on the property’s gatehouse and demolish an addition to the commandant’s quarters, which was not part of the original building.

Niemann said two years to redevelop the property, other than the Old Max building, at an estimated cost of $5.3 million are reasonable estimates. City officials said previously they thought it would cost about $30 million to redevelop the property.


Patrick Booth, an architect working on the project, said Niemann and others are seeking federal historic preservation tax credit funding to restore the five smallest of the eight buildings at the property.

After Code Enforcement Officer Rob Overton’s visits to the property, the city cited numerous problems that make the mostly granite block buildings dangerous, as defined by state statute.

The problems include exteriors of all buildings being inadequately maintained and dilapidated, including chipping lead-based paint on all buildings; broken or boarded windows and doors; missing and deteriorated mortar on several buildings, creating a risk of loose or falling debris; and more claims of disrepair.

Overton said the interiors of all the buildings are in extremely poor condition, with chipping paint and loose plaster. Some have collapsed ceilings, significant mold infestation and electrical systems that could pose fire risks, and all have inoperable or missing plumbing systems.

The National Historic Landmark collection of granite buildings, built by the federal government between 1828 and 1838, is considered by some preservationists to be among the country’s best and earliest surviving examples of 19th century munitions depots.

Niemann bought the property from the state in 2007, with a down payment of $280,000 and covenants requiring him to preserve, maintain and repair the property to preserve its value as an historic place, with plans to develop it into a mixed-use site, including retail, office space, a boutique hotel and residences. None of those developments has happened.

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