ADDISON, Maine — The Army Corps of Engineers has just begun a feasibility study to look at all the options for replacing the Addison bridge over the West Branch of the Pleasant River.
The Addison bridge was build in 1940 — 71 years ago — with a life span of 70 years. The Maine Department of Transportation rates the six-span bridge a three on a condition scale of zero to nine. Under the bridge, the problems are evident. Eighty-foot-long timber box culverts were installed on hundreds of timber pilings and assessments by DOT said the base has failed.
The reconstruction of the bridge supports and the replacement or elimination of its tidal gates, however, is controversial. The tidal gates now keep seawater from flowing into the Pleasant River. Some local landowners are opposed to any option that allows the seawater to flow onto their properties. It is estimated that could affect 300 acres of watershed in both Addison and Columbia Falls. Others believe the land should be returned to its original use as a salt marsh to support aquatic life and migratory birds.
David Larsen of the Army Corps of Engineers said that when projects like this pop up, the DOT uses them as an opportunity for environmental restoration. ACE and DOT are partnering on the joint study to look at all options.
“This study will look at all various options and their benefits and impacts,” Larsen said. He said the formal agreement with DOT was signed on August 4 and the study should take 12-18 months.
Larsen said ACE is keeping an eye on aquatic restoration but also wants to make sure homes are safe and private wells are not impacted. “They have a beautiful town up there and they have every right to want to know that things are being considered thoughtfully,” Larsen said.
Right from the start, federal and state agencies, such as 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 have supported restoring the salt marsh to its original state to return the sea smelt population, and provide natural habitat for Atlantic salmon and migrating birds.
But many that live in the area that would be impacted feel otherwise. Everett Grant opposes removing the tidal gates that would in essence turn his 13 acres into a swamp. “The high water mark would change,” Grant said Sunday, which would affect setbacks and zoning regulations. “I would not only lose land, but I would lose the use of the rest of my land.” Grant said.
Grant said that before the bridge was constructed, each individual farmer and landowner had their own dikes and ditches in place to protect their farmland from seawater. “When the bridge was built and the [tidal gates] installed, that took care of it for everybody,” he said.
Grant said the entire issue is one of property rights.
Larsen said Friday the feasibility study process will answer questions about impacts, options that make sense and potential costs. “I think there are ways to make everyone happy,” Larsen said. “There are some win-win ways to go about this.”
But Larsen added that if the project represents no restoration efforts at all, ACE would likely not participate. “There would be no benefit,” he said. DOT is counting on ACE to be a financial partner in the project.
Larsen said the study was in no way linked to a similar dike issue in nearby Machias. “Every project we participate in is taken on a case by case basis,” he said. “There may be some similarities [between Addison and Machias] but the study is not linked to Machias at all.”