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Fort Kent voters approve discontinuing Elm Street to pave way for dealership to rebuild

Contributed by Kathleen Hafford | BDN
Contributed by Kathleen Hafford | BDN
Flames shoot from the roof line as firefighters tackle a fire at Valley Auto in Fort Kent on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012.
By Julia Bayly, BDN Staff

FORT KENT, Maine — Owners of Valley Auto, the General Motors dealership destroyed in an Oct. 3 fire, are moving ahead with plans to rebuild after the community voted at a special town meeting Tuesday night to discontinue a section of roadway bisecting the dealership’s property.

Discontinuing Elm Street from its intersection with Page Avenue to the western border of the dealership’s property adds an additional 16,000-square-feet to the parcel and will allow owners Carl and Pat Theriault to build in the middle of the expanded lot with more efficient use of space.

“We are very pleased and so overwhelmed with (voter) turnout at both the public hearing and for the final vote on this,” Priscilla Staples, Fort Kent Town Council member, said Wednesday. “It was standing room only last night.”

About 80 residents packed the town office meeting room Tuesday night. No count was required as an overwhelming show of hands supported the measure.

Carl Theriault was equally pleased by the show of support.

“We had gotten some good feedback from members of the community on this and most people we had spoken to were for it,” Theriault said. “But we wanted to make sure it was approved before we went ahead with any plans.”

Rebuilding on the original lot was always the preferred plan, he said.

“Now it’s full steam ahead,” Theriault said.

This winter will be spent developing a building plan for a new structure and Theriault said he hopes to break ground as soon as possible in the spring of 2013 and have a completed dealership open for business by July.

He estimates reconstruction will run between $1 million and $1.5 million and provide local construction jobs.

“Our focus will always be on local contractors,” Theriault said. “As much as we can we want to keep things local.”

Since the fire, the dealership has relocated to two sites in town.

Valley Auto’s sales, administration, parts and service departments have taken up residence in a garage at 599 Caribou Road adjacent to the so-called “old drive-in.”

The auto body shop is now housed in a garage at the former Southside Auto on South Perley Brook Road.

Thanks to the efforts of more than 100 community members and first responders, most of the business’s computers, files, documents and records were rescued from the burning building, allowing the Theriaults to resume operations within 24-hours of the fire.

“They never stopped,” Staples said. “You can’t ask for more salt of the earth people or ones more committed to Fort Kent in all aspects from volunteering their time to keeping their people employed.”

Keeping those jobs in town was a big factor in Tuesday’s vote, Staples said.

“We needed to do this,” she said. “It’s not just 20 people who work at Valley Auto, these are 20 families.”

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