Vote on repair of Old County Road to be held in November

Rockland is considering whether to borrow money to repair a stretch of Old County Road.
Stephen Betts
Rockland is considering whether to borrow money to repair a stretch of Old County Road. Buy Photo
Posted April 23, 2014, at 9:20 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — The City Council gave final approval Wednesday night to a November referendum asking voters whether they want to borrow up to $1.6 million to repair deteriorating, heavily traveled Old County Road.

But the city’s wastewater treatment plant director warned that the project needs to be scrutinized to make sure it does not worsen conditions at the treatment plant, which is facing fines and a consent order from the state.

“I can’t emphasize enough how serious the stormwater problem is,” Director Terry Pinto said.

Pinto made his comments during the debate on whether the council would place a question on the June ballot asking voters to borrow up to $1.6 million to repair the road. His concern focused on whether the project would cause more water to enter the sewer system, which the plant cannot handle.

Councilor Eric Hebert asked that the referendum be held in November rather than June 10 to allow the city to get answers on the stormwater issue.

He said the delay in the vote should not delay work.

Speakers urged the council to place the matter on the ballot.

“Old County is a dangerous road,” said David Tetreault, who lives on the road.

In 2010, more than 7,700 vehicles were using the road on an average day, according to the Maine Department of Transportation.

Tetreault said that more large trucks are using the road since Walmart opened in Thomaston and the road was not designed to handle the amount of traffic it handles now.

“Someone is going to get killed here. It’s only a matter of time,” Tetreault said.

Resident Susan Dates also said the repairs should be done and not delayed over wastewater concerns.

Old County Road is considered a state-aid road, for which the state will perform work, but the state categorizes Old County Road as a lower priority than three parallel roads to Old County — Route 1, Route 1A and Route 90. The section of road to be repaired is from Route 17 to Thompson Meadow Road and is lined by former lime quarries.

The Transportation Department argues that Old County Road mainly serves local traffic and most through traffic uses the other parallel routes.

The state will spend $10 million on two Knox County Route 1 projects over the next few years — rebuilding nearly 1.4 miles of Route 1 in Warren this summer and next year and then another 2.2 miles in Thomaston in 2015 and 2016.

The state has said it will contribute $500,000 to assist Rockland through a program called the Municipal Partnership Initiative.

Interim Rockland City Manager Tom Luttrell said the state rejected a request by the city to post the road to heavy trucks, claiming the road was not in that poor a condition. The city manager said the city is not allowed to post the road since it is a state-aid road.

Councilor Louise MacLellan-Ruf said it was the state’s ethical responsibility to maintain the road.

“At what point do we stop laying on our backs and taking it,” she said about the state’s position, pointing out that Rockland is not getting any money but Warren and Thomaston roads are getting $10 million.

Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson said the city should not let the state pass on costs to property taxpayers.

Councilor Eric Hebert said waiting for the state to come up with money to repair the road on its own is a fantasy.

“It’s just an economic reality that there are more needs than money,” Hebert said.

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