MEREDITH — Town officials learned this summer that the people who use the public docks on Lake Winnipesaukee find shortcomings with the facilities. But when they learned what it might cost to improve them, selectboard members felt a little light-headed.
“I think it’s fair to say that the board were floored when they saw the price tag, I think it was beyond anyone’s expectation,” said Ray Moritz, selectboard chair.
Paul Fiorelli has a yearly tradition. Each September, the Massachusetts resident comes to Lake Winnipesaukee for a fishing vacation, and lately he’s made the public docks at Shep Brown’s Boat Basin his launching point.
“Everything’s always in good shape, I love it here,” Fiorelli said while fixing a minor wiring problem in his fishing boat. “This one’s never busy. Of course, I imagine it’s different in July.”
He’s right about that, said Kayla Proulx, the rentals lead for the Shep Brown’s ship store, located by the public boat launch. On a nice summer day, she said the facility can get chaotic.
“It’s insane around here,” she said. “You can see cars parked all along the side of the road – the parking lot is chock full all weekend. The biggest complaint we get is the lack of parking.” Proulx added that the launch could also benefit from public restrooms, and a place for people to dispose of their trash.
Proulx might see such improvements coming soon, as the town’s selectboard is reviewing proposals that would expand the capacities and amenities at its public docks. But those proposals come with steep price tags, so the town will have to juggle the desire to upgrade its docks with other pressing needs.
The town got an earful of complaints this summer, when it asked public launch users to fill out a survey. People responded to say that there was insufficient parking at Shep Brown’s, as well as at Cattle Landing at the end of Meredith Neck, and at the Town Docks at the tip of Meredith Bay. Respondents also said that Cattle Landing was not accessible to people with limited mobility, and that the floating dock was problematic and didn’t offer enough boat capacity. At the Town Docks, survey respondents complained about the Canada geese, the wait time for dock space and insufficient waste receptacles. At Shep Brown’s, concerns included accessibility, dock space and poor signage.
Ray Moritz, selectboard chair, said the survey was part of an analysis that was triggered by a concern, which turned out to be unfounded, about erosion underneath the Town Docks.
“Turns out, that was a false alarm. When the divers did the inspection, they didn’t find any erosion,” Moritz said. But once residents were given a say about their public docks, the selectboard heard that their facilities were deficient in other ways.
The town then asked the design firm of Weston and Sampson to come up with solutions to the problems identified in the survey responses, and those solutions were presented to the town earlier this month.
When the selectboard members saw the price, though, they might have felt a little light-headed.
“I think it’s fair to say that the board were floored when they saw the price tag, I think it was beyond anyone’s expectation,” Moritz said.
The price for Shep Brown’s, which includes a parking garage, a restroom, refurbished and extended dock, a boardwalk, picnic area and trash collection, adds up to $9.6 million. There were two options to address the Town Docks, which each offered more boat docking, boardwalk and gazebo expansion and renovation, and other shoreside improvements, which came in at $7.2 and $6.85 million. Cattle Landing’s proposal featured a bathroom, a paved parking lot, new stairs and a refurbished dock, among other improvements, would cost $1.9 million.
If approved as presented, Moritz said the waterfront project would “make it the largest project we’ve ever done.” And, given that the town is also facing costs associated with a new Highway Department facility and a new library, he added, “As proposed, it’s not affordable.”
“We’re just now entering into the budgeting cycle. We as a board haven’t really discussed our reaction or our limits on budgeting for any of this. We’ve taken it under advisement,” he said.
“Undoubtedly, some of it will get done,” Moritz said, though he added that whatever shoreline improvements are presented to voters at Town Meeting won’t be as grand as those in the proposal.
“We understand the needs, we will do our best to make improvements consistent with sound fiscal policy,” he said.