Blount Boats looks to expand in Warren
Marcia Blount emerges from her office at the sprawling Blount Boats yard on Water Street, walks down a flight of metal stairs to the sunny lot below, and looks around at what her father, the late Luther Blount, built:
"Dad left us a lot of work," she said, smiling and looking past the corrugated metal and concrete buildings toward the Warren River beyond. "We have a lot to do ... we're trying to get to everything."
The old yard turns out highly regarded ferries and offshore wind farm tenders, employing upwards of 100 workers when things get busy. But Ms. Blount believes Blount is becoming increasingly handicapped by facilities that limit the amount of work the yard can take on at any one time.
Earlier this month, Blount representatives approached the town and asked for a special use permit and variances which will allow them to build a new, 14,400-square-foot building and 6,600-square-foot retractable tent on the sprawling industrial property.
The new building would sit where a large sheet metal building at the southeast corner of the property sits, and the tent structure would sit over the ways currently used to launch boats into the Warren River.
Needed is a special use permit to build the structures and thus expand the property’s legal non-conforming use; variances are also necessary to allow construction that violates front yard setbacks, as well as exceeding allowable lot coverage.
Ms. Blount was originally expected to appear before the zoning board earlier this month, but it was postponed after town officials realized that since the property sits in the waterfront district, review by the planning board will also be necessary. The hearings are scheduled to take place in November, and Ms. Blount is crossing her fingers.
"Dad left us with an aging infrastructure, and we have really struggled with it," she said. "Strategically, we are limited. We're trying to address that."
One of the biggest changes would be to replace the large corrugated steel building that currently sits near the southeast corner of the property. Replacing with a new larger building would not just help in the wintertime — the new one would be insulated, while the current one is not — but would also enable Blount to work on more boats simultaneously.
Blount currently has to put up curtains in the big building when building boats of different materials. The new building would allow workers to more easily separate builds of different construction, simplifying the process between steel and aluminum boats.
The tent would serve another need, as EPA guidelines require Blount to cover their boats while they're being painted and otherwise finished. The retractable tent assembly would fit over the ways upon which boats are launched into the river, and would be retracted when not in use.
Blount is currently building a 110-foot ferry boat for the Maine Department of Transportation, which will use it to ferry passengers around the islands of Casco Bay in Portland. It is due to be delivered next September. Also, workers just laid the keel for the next boat, which is being built for Fire Island Ferries on Long Island. The 85-foot fast aluminum ferry is the ninth boat Blount has built for Fire Island Ferries, and it is due to be delivered in June 2014.
Apart from its ferry boat work, Blount has a contract with South Boats on the Isle of Wight, England, which designs boats used in offshore wind farm applications. South Boats approached Blount several years ago to build its designs, and Ms. Blount said it's been a great relationship.
In all, Ms. Blount believes making the changes would allow Blount to work on four or five boats simultaneously, up from the maximum of three that workers can now build. That's hugely important, she said as the firm struggles to never turn away work.
"Strategically, to survive, we need to increase our level of activity with the plot of land that we have," she said. "Contracts are coming down the pike, and we for the first time in our lives looked at what was available in the Bristol Industrial Park. There are buildings available; that was an eye-opening experience."
Ideally, though, she said Blount prefers to keep construction in Warren, its ancestral home. Blount wants to be a good neighbor, she said, and she said the new changes will help improve the look of the yard. The firm also plans to keep the buffer zone it currently has between the south end of the property and the Warren Town Beach beyond.
"We feel a strong allegiance to Warren," she said. "We have been here for over 100 years, and we would like to use this land the best we can.