WINTER HARBOR – Housing being vacated by the Navy may provide some relief for an employer on Mount Desert Island whose workers have a tough time finding a place to live.
The Bar Harbor-based Jackson Laboratory – the largest employer in Hancock County – already provides bus service to and from Franklin and Bangor for employees who have had to find housing off the island, according to Joyce Peterson, the Jackson Lab spokeswoman. She said the laboratory is considering ways the Navy facilities in Winter Harbor might be reused after they are vacated by the military in 2002.
The Navy’s group security base, which has operating facilities in Gouldsboro and Winter Harbor and provides housing to its employees in the Winter Harbor village, is due to close in June of next year.
“We are looking into ways the Winter Harbor facilities can be useful to our institution,” Peterson said Thursday. All three types of housing the Navy has in Winter Harbor – the single-family homes, the duplexes and the townhouse units behind the IGA grocery store – are being considered by the lab, Peterson said.
Peterson said the lab has been communicating with the National Park Service about being involved in some way with the National Learning Center, which the National Park Service plans to establish at the 100-acre Navy property at Schoodic Point. The parcel is surrounded on all sides by Acadia National Park.
“We are working with the park service to brainstorm about lots of possible options,” Peterson said.
Roger Barto, the town manager for Winter Harbor, said that Jackson Lab and Stinson Seafood, which has a canning plant in nearby Prospect Harbor, are the only two entities that have asked the town about the Navy’s townhouse units, which are directly behind the IGA grocery store in the village. He said a developer from the Greenville area has asked about possibly buying the duplexes and single-family homes and selling them as timeshares.
Proposed special federal legislation would enable the town of Winter Harbor to inherit all of the Navy’s housing units in Winter Harbor when the base closes.
Barto said the Winter Harbor selectmen have scheduled a public meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 7, at the grammar school gym to discuss the housing units.
“They want to get a consensus from the people about how they’d like the housing to be used,” Barto said. The selectmen likely will put out requests for proposals on reusing the properties depending on the suggestions they get at the meeting, he said.
If the lab acquires some of the housing in Winter Harbor, it may establish another bus run for its employees who live there, Peterson said. The Franklin bus is run by Downeast Transportation and is used by about 12 employees, she said, while the laboratory runs its own bus to and from Bangor each workday. Peterson said nine employees use the 12-seat Bangor bus, but that number is likely to change.
“We expect that to go up,” Peterson said. She said approximately 1,000 of the lab’s 1,200 employees live in Hancock County, while about 20 live in Washington County.
Peterson said the lab has had difficulty attracting employees because of the limited housing market on MDI.
“We’re in the same affordable housing crunch that everybody else is in the region,” Peterson said. She said that the lab is also considering working with local builders and developers to provide housing for its employees both on and off the island.
“This is all very theoretical,” Peterson said.