On Oct. 1, the U.S. Space Force is due to take command of the Prospect Harbor naval operation as part of its consolidation of communications satellites within the American military. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY LETITIA BALDWIN

Space Force to command satellite facility

GOULDSBORO — More than half a century ago, the U.S. Navy began operating on the Schoodic Peninsula, but its lengthy presence will end Oct. 1 when the U.S. Space Force assumes command of the Prospect Harbor naval operation as part of its consolidation of communications satellites across the nation. The planned transfer of command hinges on Congress’s passage of government funding by Sept. 30.

The reorganization also will incorporate the Navy’s satellite ground control units at Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu, Calif., North Finegayan Island in Guam and Schriever Space Force Base in Colorado.

Speaking from Washington, D.C., Tuesday, U.S. Space Force spokesman Col. Nicholas Mercurio confirmed that the Navy’s narrowband satellite system is imminently due be transferred to the newest branch of the American military. He said the command change of the Prospect Harbor operation and the three other naval units involves the transfer of a total of 17 military and 59 civilian personnel positions. He declined to say how many of those positions are in Prospect Harbor.

“These units are being transferred because they are closely aligned in mission with corresponding units in the Space Force and they are operating together already,” Mercurio explained. He said making them part of the U.S. Space Force “enhances unity of effort and mission effectiveness in the satellite communications area.”

At their Sept. 9 meeting, Gouldsboro Select Board members were notified of the Prospect Harbor Naval Satellite Operations Center’s imminent transfer to the U.S. Space Force starting in October by the U.S. Navy’s community plans and liaison officer, Jackie Johnston. She is the community liaison for naval operations from Maine’s naval facility in Cutler to New York. The Cutler communications facility, whose mission differs greatly from the Prospect Harbor station’s function, is not included in the command change. Its mission remains to provide navigational signals and maintain communications with ships, planes and submarines in the North Atlantic Ocean, Arctic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.

“Whenever there’s been a need, you have always been there,” Select Board Chairman Dana Rice told Johnston, adding he hoped the U.S. Space Force would be as good a neighbor as the Navy has been.

Since 1964, when it moved its radar-antenna operation from Corea village to the former Coast Guard site at Prospect Harbor, the Navy has had a low-key presence and amicable relationship with its Lighthouse Point Road neighbors and the town. In fact, at one time, the naval station’s military/civilian crew provided 24-hour emergency dispatch for the Gouldsboro Volunteer Fire Department until that service was assumed by the Hancock County Regional Communications Center. In addition, the Navy has contributed funds to maintain the Lighthouse Point Road’s unpaved section over the years.

Last year, the Navy’s clearing of a partially wooded 1.42-acre shorefront area and installation of tall lighting poles and razor wire-topped security fencing and other issues sparked strong objections from Lighthouse Point Road residents. The original plan was intended to make room for a parking lot and expand the satellite tracking and control facility’s line of sight. In keeping with that plan, a new gatehouse and secondary entrance built to the naval complex also was created and some razor-wire fencing installed to comply with current anti-terrorism force protection standards.

Since then, in response to objections to the stark changes, the Navy and local property owners agreed on a plan that addresses some of the neighbors’ concerns but fulfills the Navy’s mission and security requirements. Cedar fencing was erected along the closest privately owned lot. The lighting poles’ height was reduced from 20 feet to 10.5 feet to help preserve the Downeast region’s night skies. The parking lot is smaller and crushed stone used instead of asphalt to top it. A landscape architect was consulted to make further recommendations. The work is ongoing and is not expected to be completed until next summer.

Besides the satellite tracking and control unit, the automated Prospect Harbor Lighthouse also occupies the federal Prospect Harbor property. In a Sept. 15 post on Facebook, the Navy announced that the lightkeeper’s quarters — Gull Cottage — would no longer be available for rent after Sept. 1, 2022, because of the expected change in command. The cottage has been available to military personnel as a vacation retreat. Pending reservations between Oct. 1, 2021, and Aug. 31, 2022, are being honored.

“At this time, we do not know if the new military branch will continue to operate Gull Cottage as part of the DOD Lodging Network or use it for other purposes after October 1, 2022,” the posting said.

Letitia Baldwin

Arts Editor at The Ellsworth American
In addition to editing the Arts & Leisure section, Letitia edits special sections including Out & About, Overview, Health Quarterly, Your Maine Home, House & Garden and Get Ready for Winter. She comes from Chicago, Ill, but has deep family ties to the Cranberry Isles. [email protected]

Latest posts by Letitia Baldwin (see all)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.