ADDISON, Maine — A study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about replacing a bridge over the western branch of the Pleasant River, along with a gate system that keeps out seawater, has dragged on longer than anticipated.
However, the study is expected to be completed and available for public review near the end of this year, a corps spokesman revealed this week.
The bridge that carries Ridge Road over the river was built in 1940, 74 years ago; the lifespan of the bridge was 70 years. The state Department of Transportation uses a scale of 0 to 9 to rate the condition of a bridge, and the Addison bridge is only a 3. The bridge has timber box culverts on hundreds of timber pilings, and the base has failed, according to the department.
Replacing the bridge and doing away with the gate system, however, is controversial, and any recommendation to that effect likely would set the stage for a fight pitting private landowners against environmental organizations and state and federal natural resource agencies.
Eliminating the gates would allow seawater to flow up river, affecting an estimated 300 acres in Addison and perhaps neighboring Columbia and Columbia Falls.
The Downeast Salmon Federation, the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have supported removal of the gate in order to restore habitat for fish and wildlife.
In addition, the final outcome could set a precedent for replacing another gate that is part of a dike that takes U.S. 1 across the Middle River in Machias.
“The study is ongoing and we have not determined what our recommended plan will be,” Tim Dugan, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers in Concord, Mass., said by email this week.
The corps is partnering with the state Department of Transportation in the study. The two agencies signed an agreement in August 2011. Another corps spokesman said shortly afterward that the study would take 12-18 months.
The $464,000 study has taken longer than expected, acknowledged Dugan. The work accomplished to date includes a bathymetric survey, characterization of nearby salt marsh areas, sediment sampling, ecological characterization (including fish passage and spawning habitat assessment), hydraulic modeling, alternative formulation, utilities inventory, and culvert evaluation, he explained.
The study will go through several reviews before it will be released to the public for review, said Dugan, who indicated it would be available for public review in late 2014.
Stephen Bodge, a project manager for the Department of Transportation, called it a “difficult project.”
“A lot of people and a lot of agencies want to remove the gate,” said Bodge.
“Prior to doing that, we want to look at all the impacts” and possible outcomes, he said. He called it a process of “how to get from a deteriorated bridge to a final product and everybody relatively happy.” The study will examine several options — and their impacts — for replacing the bridge, said Bodge.
A public meeting was held when the study was launched. “I think everyone down there” is aware of the study and how their property may potentially be affected by the removal of the gate, said Bodge. He was not sure how many landowners potentially would be affected.
The Addison bridge and the Machias dike apparently are the only two structures in Maine equipped with the type of gates that keep out seawater. “I believe that to be true,” said Bodge.