MACHIAS, Maine — The transcripts of two well-attended public hearings last December regarding the replacement or omission of tidal gates in two area dikes, one in Machias and another at Addison, are now available online.
The Maine Department of Transportation held the hearings to gather opinions about projects intended to replace aging cribworks on bridges that cross tidal waters, the Middle River in Machias and the west branch of the Pleasant River in Addison. Both bridges now have tidal valves, or flappers, that stop seawater from entering the freshwater rivers at high tide.
The hearings discussed whether to replace the flappers as part of bridge repairs. Removing the flappers would allow the seawater to flow freely into the two rivers and would return hundreds of acres to salt marshes.
The transcripts can be read at www.maine.gov/mdot/publicmeetingminutes/index.htm.
Nearly 100 people attended the Dec. 16 hearing in Machias, while another 60 attended the Dec. 8 hearing in Addison.
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.
In a meeting in Addison, DOT bridge designer Michael Wight explained that the Addison bridge was built 69 years ago with a life span of 70 years. On a condition scale of zero to 9, with zero being bridge closure, Wight rated the Addison bridge a 3.
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.
The Machias dike, built on a similar wooden cribwork, also is considered to be failing and contains four flappers that were installed 80 years ago.
At Machias, only those involved with restoring sea-run fish to the tidal rivers spoke in favor of leaving the flappers out of the bridge repair project. Dozens of residents, including the Machias selectmen and local state representatives, opposed removal of the flappers.
Abutting landowners told DOT officials that removing the Machias flappers would create an environmental disaster, flood hundreds of acres along the Middle River, put several area businesses, a snowmobile trail and a historic horse racing track underwater and create a rotting marsh.
The DOT is in the early stages of the projects, which may take three to four years to complete and could cost $4 million to $5 million each. The projects are slated for funding in 2013. Some DOT officials have questioned whether they will be able to obtain the necessary federal permits for the flappers, even if that is what the townspeople want.
DOT officials said at both meetings that they were not wedded to either option, but said that leaving out the flappers would considerably lessen the projects’ costs and that federal agencies are promoting the restoration of saltwater marshes.
The DOT plans to schedule meetings in the spring in both communities to discuss the options further.