April 23, 2018
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County residents worry bridge work may increase risk for flooding

By Julia Bayly, BDN Staff

WALLAGRASS, Maine — Newly completed pond erosion mitigation work at the Soldier Pond bridge has left some residents worried the Maine Department of Transportation project may have created more problems than it solved.

Property owners upstream along Bouchard Road are worried the construction has increased the likelihood of flooding to homes close to the pond’s edge despite assurances from MDOT officials that is not the case.

The $350,000 scour mitigation project, aimed at preserving the structure’s integrity, changed the depth of the pond under the bridge in addition to altering the pond’s underwater topography.

Those changes, according to some residents, could spell trouble when temperatures warm up and the river starts flowing next spring.

“When they fixed it they raised the floor of the pond five feet,” James Bouchard, homeowner, said, “So now in some places under the bridge the pond is only two feet deep.”

That level, say MDOT officials, brings the pond back to 63-year-old, pre-bridge levels after decades of currents moving gravel and rocks along the bottom had eroded — or scoured — out the areas around the bridge’s support piers and abutments.

“We did the work to take the bottom back to 1946 levels to make sure the two piers are as structurally sound as could be,” Ted Talbot, MDOT director of communications, said Friday. “That work did not increase any risk for flooding [and] no one is at any greater risk.”

Bouchard, who is the third generation in his family to live alongside Soldier Pond, disagrees.

“The work they did was supposed to raise the bottom to the same level as 1946,” he said. “It was never as high as they just raised it.”

In addition, improvements to the pond’s banks using large stones, or “rip-rap,” have significantly narrowed the waterbody at what was already its narrowest point, creating the potential for ice jams in the spring, Bouchard said.

Though reassured by MDOT representatives on the site the work would not pose any increased flood risks, Bouchard and his neighbor Keith Lord, a seasonal resident, are not convinced.

“I told them I wanted written assurance the ‘dam’ they were creating would not cause flooding,” Bouchard said. “But they did not want to touch that with a 10-foot pole.”

Bouchard and Lord said they had multiple questions and concerns about the project and finally got some answers late this week when representatives from MDOT met with municipal officials and members of the community Thursday night.

“There did appear to be public concern about increased risk of flooding,” Talbot said. “There is no increased risk.”

Lord said his house flooded above the first floor twice before — once in 1973 and again in 2008 and he does not want to go through that again.

Bouchard and Lord both said they are used to water in their cellars every spring but are not happy with the prospect of a state mitigation project increasing the risk for more serious flooding.

“Those houses are in a floodplain to begin with,” James Gagnon, Wallagrass town manager said. “So I can see how they are concerned about any increased risk.”

In addition, a small stream flowing into Soldier Pond does have the potential for seasonal flooding and creating some headaches for homeowners, Gagnon said, adding mitigation work on that waterbody is being looked at.

Lord said he would like additional assurances his property is safe.

“I was told by MDOT all they can put in writing is the project was completed as designed and it did not raise the floor [of the pond] more than it had been in 1946,” he said.

Those designs, Gagnon said, were created by the Army Corps of Engineers and approved by multiple state and environmental agencies.

Lord said many of the issues connected to the work could have been solved if MDOT had sought public comment before the project began.

As it is, Lord said he and his neighbors are in a holding pattern awaiting whatever the spring thaw of 2013 brings.

In the meantime, Lord and his wife will return to their winter home in California, watch from afar and hope to discuss the situation with northern Maine legislators.

“James [Bouchard] put it really well,” Lord said. “If our homes are flooded and water goes into the first floors and living place but no other places below the new work get flooded, what can we assume from that?”

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