Road expansion plan for new Bucksport nursing home moves forward

Posted May 04, 2012, at 4:19 p.m.
Last modified May 04, 2012, at 5:36 p.m.

BUCKSPORT, Maine — Councilors voted Thursday to approve an agreement to extend two roads near downtown in order to accommodate a proposed nursing home in town.

First Atlantic Healthcare of Portland is eying an undeveloped site off Main Street for a new facility that would feature 61 nursing home beds plus 30 beds in an assisted living area. The project is part of a series of changes at elder care facilities in Hancock and Washington counties under consideration by state officials.

In order to provide access to the site, Bucksport officials are discussing extending Broadway — which runs parallel to Main Street before dead-ending — to connect to Park Street. Park Street, which already connects to Main, also would be extended to accommodate the increased traffic and to provide another outlet from Broadway onto Route 1/Route 3 near the Family Dollar store.

A preliminary analysis by an engineering firm estimated that the extension would cost $885,550, including infrastructure and utilities. But town officials expect the cost to be lower because the work would be performed by Bucksport’s road crew.

On Thursday, Town Council members approved an option agreement and permitting agreement with landowner John W. Wardwell to extend the roads. The road extension plan is contingent on several factors, however.

First of all, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection must sign off on the town’s proposal to mitigate for the loss of roughly 50,500 square feet of wetlands. The road extension is expected to affect 21,500 square feet of wetlands. But earlier work at the site by Wardwell affected an additional 29,000 acres of wetlands without prior DEP approval.

The town has proposed a 15:1 mitigation plan wherein Bucksport will protect from development 15 square feet of land for every square foot of affected wetlands.

To accomplish this, the town has offered to set aside about 18 acres near Bucksport Middle School that is part of a 53-acre site Bucksport purchased in 2008 as a wetlands “mitigation bank.” Because the town originally purchased the property from Wardwell, he has agreed to buy back about 11 of the 18 acres to account for the portion of wetlands mitigation attributable to the earlier, unpermitted wetlands disturbance at the proposed nursing home site.

“What we are proposing to the DEP is that we would create an outdoor classroom complex within that 18-acre site so that the schools would be able to take students up there,” said Dave Milan, Bucksport’s economic development director. Such outdoor classrooms have become popular options for supplementing educational programs on science, agriculture and nature.

The agreement approved Thursday night allows Bucksport to cancel the road extension project should the DEP reject the plans or if First Atlantic fails to construct a nursing home at the site.

Staff at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services have recommended “conditional approval” be granted to First Atlantic’s application for a “certificate of need” for the new nursing home.

But First Atlantic’s plans for the Bucksport home also are linked to pending decisions on whether to close two other facilities: First Atlantic’s Atlantic Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Calais and Penobscot Nursing Home in nearby Penobscot. Both of those proposed closures are encountering resistance from residents and elected officials concerned about losing a local elder-care facility.

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