A set of lobster buoys sits in a boat at Betsy Cove in Brooksville. The granite stone retaining wall that holds up the town landing is slowly collapsing and voters are being asked to borrow more money to pay for its replacement. Credit: Contributed photo

BROOKSVILLE, Maine – Voters in Brooksville Thursday will be asked to allocate more money so that the town may begin reconstructing the Betsy Cove town landing. Although money was previously approved for the project, the costs have risen substantially.

The town isn’t alone. It is one of several locally that have seen cost estimates on municipal projects jump during the pandemic.

“When we put out the bids, we thought that we had a really good estimate,” said Selectman John Gray. “That went out the window. The new bids came back substantially above that.”

Voters had set aside $365,000 in the summer and the town received a grant of $250,000 from the Maine Department of Transportation to help with the project, which will replace the slowly collapsing retaining wall at the cove, as well as add a handful of more parking spots to the landing.

But the lowest bid came in at $786,993 — $171,993 more than the original estimate from earlier this year. Gray attributed the rise to increased costs for labor and materials. Steel was about double what it had previously cost, he said.

The town is now coming back to town meeting asking for an additional $75,000, which will be matched with another $75,000 from DOT. Waived fees and slight changes to the project are expected to make up the rest of the difference.  

The landing, just off Route 176, has a small parking lot and boat ramp. The granite retaining wall that holds it up is pulling apart, causing town officials to worry about it falling in.

“Over the years, it’s started to collapse,” Gray said. “We knew we had to do something about that.”

Fishermen like to offload their boats and traps at the landing. It also provides the town’s only public access to Buck’s Harbor. If the additional funding is passed, work is expected to start this month and possibly wrap up by the spring.

“It needs to be stabilized and I think everybody realizes that,” Gray said.

Dredging could be a future phase of the project to make the harbor accessible at all tides.

Other towns have seen project costs shoot up during the pandemic as well. Orland has been considering building a new fire station. A rough estimate of $3 to $3.5 million from earlier this year was about twice as much as officials were expecting due to rising building and material costs, Fire Chief Rob Conary said recently.

In Bar Harbor, school officials were ready to present a plan to overhaul the Conners Emerson School just before the start of the pandemic in 2020. At the time, the elementary school renovation project was estimated at $40 million. But the project was put off because of the uncertainty due to the pandemic. Now, school officials anticipate the project will cost $42.5 million. The school is working on further design for renovation, which should show if that estimate holds, said Carla Haskell, the Ellsworth-based architect hired by the district. The increase is in the costs of construction.

In a normal year, construction costs typically go up between 4 and 6 percent, Haskell said, but between 2020 and 2021, prices have risen between 10 and 15 percent, depending on the type of project and location. She didn’t see prices coming down soon either.

“I’ve been advising clients to not think if we postpone for a year, it’s going to be cheaper,” Haskell said. “We’ve just got to kind of keep rolling with things.”