ADDISON, Maine — About sixty people, including more than half a dozen state and federal agency representatives, gathered Tuesday night at Addison Town Hall to hear about the proposed replacement of a dike bridge over the Pleasant River.
No one seemed to take issue with the Maine Department of Transportation’s assessment that the bridge is in deplorable condition and needs to be replaced.
The contention is whether the flappers under the bridge — which control the ebb and flow of seawater into the river — will be replaced, or whether DOT will install a simple span bridge. A span would allow the free flow of seawater and restore hundreds of acres of salt marsh.
Some residents were concerned that their land would become flooded if the flappers were not reinstalled, that their wells — including the town’s municipal well — would become tainted with seawater or that they could lose land through eminent domain.
Others at the meeting fully supported removing the flappers and restoring the salt marsh to its original, natural state.
DOT project manager Devon Anderson repeatedly told the audience that neither of the two options had been settled on but resident Linda Smith, whose home is directly on the dike, said, “It sounds like your minds have been made up [to remove the flappers].”
Charles Hebson, a DOT hydrologist, said, “The current thinking today is to restore the tidal flow.”
Representatives from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Down East Salmon Federation all spoke about the benefits of restoring the salt marsh to its original state. They talked about a return of the sea smelt popu-lation, and providing natural habitat for Atlantic salmon and migrating birds.
One Addison resident, John Marshall, appealed for balance concerning the impact on residents, their homes and wells and the environment.
“The opportunity to restore a salt marsh in the state of Maine is extremely rare,” he said. “Let this be a project we can be proud of.”
Anderson said about 300 acres would be affected by the project, which he called “very unique.” He said there are only two bridges in Maine that contain the flappers and are built on dikes — one in Addison and the other in Machias — and both are scheduled for replacement.
He notified 125 landowners of the hearing who possibly could be affected by the project. “It was the largest mailing for a hearing that I have ever done,” he said.
DOT bridge designer Michael Wight said that the Addison bridge was built 69 years ago with a life span of 70 years. “This bridge has serious problems,” he said. On a scale of zero to nine, with zero being bridge closure, Wight rated the Addison bridge a three.
He said it is a six-span bridge with 80-foot-long timber box culverts installed on hundreds of timber pilings. He said just about every aspect of the bridge’s base has failed.
“This is going to be a challenging project for us,” Wight said. “It is a tough site due to right-of-way impacts and the proximity of utility lines.”
The multimillion-dollar project is slated for funding in 2013.
Tuesday’s meeting was called to hear concerns from the public and their questions centered on what would happen if the flappers were removed.
Questions included: How long will the bridge be closed while under construction? How will utilities remain on? How wide will the finished bridge be? Who will mitigate saltwater contamination of area wells? Who will compensate local people who now harvest the salt marsh hay that would be underwater? Could the bridge be-come a hydropower site? How would DOT protect the adjacent town landing?
Anderson said he would take all of these questions into consideration and bring answers back for another meeting in the spring of 2010.
Anderson is holding a second, similar meeting in Machias regarding the bridge and flapper replacement project there at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 16, in science lecture Room 102 at the University of Maine at Machias.