Thursday, December 12, 2013
FARMINGTON — The long-awaited Whittier Road stabilization project is expected to begin late this month and take about 10 days, officials said Thursday.
Aug. 28, 2011 — Tropical Storm Irene tears through central Maine, knocking a 50-foot-wide, 300-foot-long chunk of earth into the river.
Oct. 31, 2012 — Whittier Road is closed as a precautionary measure. The bank had eroded to 30 feet from road and officials were concerned it might collapse into the Sandy River. Three weeks later, the road is opened to one lane because of complaints about inconvenience.
December 2012 — Environmental consultants say moving forward on a riverbank stabilization project on Whittier Road would not harm an Atlantic salmon spawning ground.
March 2013 — The Fish and Wildlife Department announces a competing plan instead of the rootwad structure proposed by environmental consultants. The federal agency said its structure would not use boulders and would be more environmentally friendly
May 3, 2013 — The town adopts a compromise plan that uses fewer boulders but still would create a strong base.
Aug. 20, 2013 — Town officials plan to accept a bid for construction of the project. Construction is expected to start by Sept. 1.
Environmental consultant Rick Jones said he expects construction to start no later than Sept. 1.
First selectman Ryan Morgan said that after continuing to review and discuss the project, the town is expected to have the money needed to contribute its 25 percent match.
In July, Town Manager Richard Davis said the town already has committed about $76,000 to the project and would be in a bind if it were to cost much more than $300,000.
Stabilizing the eroding bank, which collapsed partly during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, is being funded by a matching grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The town will not know the final cost until after a bid is accepted on the project on Tuesday.
The board has been eager to start the project because work along the riverbank is allowed only between July 15 and Sept. 30, to minimize effects on the endangered Atlantic salmon, which use the river as spawning ground.
All agencies involved remain confident they will complete the project this construction season.
Jones said the project can start as soon as the consultants get permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. He said after months of conference calls about competing design proposals with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the consultants received the final project design Tuesday and sent the design to the two agencies for permit approval Thursday.
“It’s been a long battle,” he said.
The U.S. Forest Service, which is overseeing the project, initially estimated construction would start July 29 and last until Aug. 9., but the start was pushed back a month while the town and federal agencies involved negotiated a project design.
Environmental consultants originally proposed a structure using trees with attached rootwads inserted into the riverbank and boulders along the river bank. In March, U.S. Fish and Wildlife proposed a competing plan that would use no boulders and be more salmon-friendly, which left town officials and consultants concerned about the project’s sturdiness.
The compromise plan adopted in May uses fewer boulders, but would still create a strong base.
Jones said while there is “nobody on the east coast building anything exactly like this,” a local contractor will be able to build the project with the help of the U.S. Forest Service.
Town officials have been eager to make progress on the project because there is an increased likelihood the river will swell and collapse the road or at least damage it enough to prompt the town to close that section as a precautionary measure. The town has been trying to stabilize the bank, which has eroded to 30 feet from the road, since August 2011, when a storm caused a 50-foot-wide, 300-foot-long chunk of earth to fall into the river.
The bank had eroded to 30 feet from the road, and the stakes placed at the base of the road for stabilization have been washed away. He said every time the river rises and then recedes, it pulls more material from the bank and continues to destabilize it.
Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252