FORT KENT, Maine — Permitting issues have forced the New Brunswick Department of Transportation to extend the deadline for construction bids on the planned international bridge connecting Maine and Canada to Oct. 19.
“It’s been on again, off again and now on again,” Don Guimond, Fort Kent town manager, told the town council last week. As recently as the previous week the New Brunswick DOT had extended the deadline indefinitely beyond the original closure date of Oct. 3, he said.
“The issue was with the permitting as it pertains to when work can be done in water on the Canadian side,” Guimond said. “Some [Canadian] regulations allow that work to occur only at certain times of the year but they were able to get that all ironed out.”
New Brunswick’s DOT is the lead agency on the joint Maine-provincial multimillion dollar project. Repeated calls to that department’s office of communications were not returned.
Construction companies and contractors from both countries are eligible to submit bids and Guimond said the review process should begin next month.
“There have been seven or eight requests for information from people anticipating placing a bid,” Guimond said. “There is significant interest on both sides of the border.”
Due to the bid extension, Guimond said it is highly unlikely any work on a new bridge will begin this year.
The new bridge has an anticipated completion date in 2013 and will replace the existing 81-year-old structure connecting Fort Kent with Clair, NB, which engineers from both countries have already posted with weight and traffic limits.
It will be located roughly 15-feet downriver from the existing bridge and earlier this year the old Fort Kent Masonic Lodge was demolished to make way for a new approach ramp.
Local, state and federal officials have reviewed plans for that approach ramp and that project will go out for bids after the bridge construction begins. Guimond said the design of that new bridge takes into account the existing dirt levee which protects the west end of Fort Kent from spring flooding in the St. John River.
“As part of the [bridge] construction there had to be an emergency operation plan in the event of flooding occurring during active construction,” Guimond said. “There will be some structural impact on the levee during construction but the possibility of any flooding during the construction phase is pretty low, given most of it will take place in the summer.”
In addition, Guimond said the new bridge will be higher and less vulnerable to ice jams that can accompany high spring water in the St. John River and also create pressure on the levee.
“It’s not inconceivable there will be any construction starting this year, but it is unlikely,” the town manager said. “But with the bid awards nearing we are moving ahead and making progress.”