Peter Melroy attends the Holbrook Community Foundation’s annual breakfast at the Cundy’s Harbor Community Hall on Labor Day. Melroy chairs the foundation’s Facilities Committee, which maintains its buildings and wharf. (JOHN GORMLEY PHOTO)
At 7:30 a.m. on Labor Day, Greg Barmore and Bill Mangum were dispensing food for guests attending the Holbrook Community Foundation’s annual breakfast.
Normally this event would have taken place at Holbrook’s Lobster Grille, part of the historic working waterfront property in Cundy’s Harbor that the foundation was created to save almost two decades ago. But with rain in the forecast, the decision was made to move the event from the outdoor restaurant to the Cundy’s Harbor Community Hall, about a half-mile up the road.
Barmore, a past president of the foundation, presided over the breakfast meats: bacon and sausage in both patty and link form. As a line of hungry guests passed down the line making their food choices, Barmore observed, “While we make some money from this breakfast, more important, we make friends.”
Working next to him on the food line was another former president of the foundation, Bill Mangum. He was in charge of the grits: two kinds, both yellow and white, with salsa available to give them some kick.
Mangum, who is originally from North Carolina, affirmed the authenticity of his offerings. “The grits were imported from South Carolina,” he said.
This was not the first time Mangum had imported something of value from the Carolinas for the benefit of the Harpswell community. When he took office in 2006 as the first president of the foundation, the Holbrook wharf was, he said, “in terrible shape.” Barmore chimed in, “It was falling into the ocean.”
There was an urgent need to replace the wharf’s wooden pilings, which were riddled with holes made by marine worms. Mangum took it upon himself to find pilings that would not need to be replaced every 25 years because of the destructive marine organisms. The answer: recycled fiberglass booms from the bucket trucks utility companies use to service power lines.
“We found all of them in North Carolina,” he said. And they were free, saving at least $100,000 on the cost of rebuilding the wharf.
The foundation purchased the Holbrook property in 2006 after raising $1.25 million, including $450,000 from individual donors and $50,000 from the town. It went on to spend an additional $1 million to rehabilitate and improve the structures — the wharf, a nearby store and an apartment building known for its classic cupola — in keeping with its mission to support the working waterfront. Still, the foundation’s work was far from done.
For example, Deirdre Strachan, the foundation’s current president, proudly noted that the foundation has been providing financial support to the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust’s environmental outreach programs at Harpswell Community School and the Land Trust’s Nature Day Camp.
And, of course, the foundation’s ongoing duties include those of a landlord. That burden falls to Peter Melroy, chair of the foundation’s Facilities Committee. “That’s our job, to maintain these things,” he said.
One issue his committee faces is the quality and cost of the water supply for the buildings. The water from the wells serving them is degraded by saltwater intrusion and naturally occurring minerals. Reverse osmosis equipment located beneath the store serves to remove the salt and other impurities. But it takes 4 gallons of treated water to yield 1 gallon of potable water, and a lot of electricity.
“We probably need to look into other sources,” Melroy said.
Already the foundation is buying water in bulk to augment the well water. The committee is considering a rain collection system, as well as buying more water. Desalinating water from the New Meadows River may also be an option. Surprisingly, the salt water is easier to treat than the well water, according to Melroy, because of the range of things that must be removed from the well water. However, the desalination approach might have a serious drawback: Mussel larvae could colonize the piping of the reserve osmosis system and clog it.
Clearly, Melroy and his committee have a difficult path ahead in working out the best way (or ways) of providing an adequate and affordable supply of clean water.
This breakfast, of course, was not about solving difficult problems or, at $10 per head, about raising large sums of money from the 75 or so people in attendance. This was, as Barmore said earlier, about connecting with friends.
Kymberlee Dunning Piela was eating her breakfast at a table with her husband, Michael, and her cousin, Jan Beane. Beane’s roots are in New Jersey, but over the last few years, she and her family have been renovating a residence in Cundy’s Harbor, the old Harris Store. Piela, on the other hand, is no newcomer. She described herself as “the only true native of Harpswell.”
She was born into a lobstering family that resided on Little Yarmouth Island. Her mother went into labor prematurely during a winter storm. “It was the middle of a blizzard,” Piela said. “We couldn’t get off the island.”
So Piela came into the world without medical attention and without budging from her family’s little island just southwest of Bethel Point.
Given that history, her opinion on friendship and community should carry some weight.
“It’s a very close-knit community. Everyone helps each other,” she said.
John Gormley is a retired journalist who lives in Cundy’s Harbor. His interests include fishing, tennis and gardening.