BREWER, Maine — A federal report released Monday on the impact a proposed Interstate 395-Route 9 connector would have on bats and salmon said the wildlife would be OK, but officials in towns the road would cross still say they don’t want it.
“We’re not in favor of all the heavy truck traffic going through the village on Route 9, and we’re not in favor of the displacement of homes and people,” Eddington Town Manager Russell Smith said Tuesday. “We’re just not in favor of it.”
Neither is the city of Brewer, which twice has taken a stand against the project.
“This changes nothing,” Mayor Jerry Goss said of the wildlife report. The state’s proposed route, he said, “still does not meet the original criteria as [set forth] in the study,” which was designed to provide a better route for tractor trailers driving on Route 9, also called The Airline, traveling toward Interstate 95 and destinations south.
“To me, this is the cheapest route to ramrod through,” Goss said. “Our position remains firm that we are opposed to it.”
The state and federal funds that would be spent to build the proposed road would be better spent on maintaining existing ones, he added.
The Maine Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration on Monday received an 80-page biological opinion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of a study needed for the project to move forward, Maine DOT project manager Russell Charette said in an email.
The Maine DOT was waiting for the biological opinion to move forward on the final environmental impact statement for the state’s preferred 2B-2 connector route, Charette said.
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement was issued in March 2013, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a determination in July 2013, which indicated 2B-2 was the most practicable and least environmentally damaging alternative. A timetable for the FEIS was not given.
The Maine DOT did not place the connector project on its three-year work plan issued in January because the final environmental impact statement was not completed and because the state did not yet have a National Environmental Policy Act permit in hand, the project manager said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report states a small number of migrating Atlantic salmon and northern long-eared bats may be impacted on a minimal basis during the construction of 2B-2 and listed a number of ways to mitigate impacts.
Maine DOT’s preferred route would extend I-395 at its Wilson Street junction and roughly would follow the Brewer-Holden line until it would enter Eddington and connect with a refurbished Route 9. All three communities issued resolves earlier this year in opposition to the connector plans.
“I think it’s all changed,” Smith said of the planned $61 million road construction project that was initiated in 2000. “There was more displacement of homes with 2B-2 route.”
The Maine DOT has considered 70 different routes during the last 14 years and announced in April 2013 the scope and scale of the project had been reduced, changing it from a limited-access highway to a two-lane rolling rural route.
The proposed connector is within the known range of the northern long-eared bat but is not expected to have any impact on the species, which is likely to be listed as an endangered species in the spring 2015 because of the emergence of white-nose syndrome.
The disease, marked by a white fungus on the muzzles of bats that spreads through hibernating populations and typically kills more than 90 percent of the bats, was first detected in 2006 and has spread throughout the northeastern United State and into Canada. White-nose syndrome was found in Maine bats in 2011.
When it came to Atlantic salmon, the biological assessment “concludes that critical habitat within the action area, including the habitat upstream of the roadway corridor on Felts and Eaton Brooks and their tributaries, will function as suitable and unimpaired after construction is complete and these streams will continue to serve a conservation and recovery role for Atlantic salmon.”
Although he did not yet have a chance to review the biological opinion, Holden Town Council Chairman Robert Harvey said the town remains opposed to the project and continues to budget $100,000 a year for any technical assistance it might need, if and when the connector moves forward.
When the connector would be constructed is still an unanswered question.
“Federal funding for final design and construction has not been secured yet; therefore, a construction schedule has not been developed,” the biological assessment states. “Construction methods and sequencing will be determined after final design and contractor selection.”
However, Brewer City Manager Stephen Bost said the connector road is, as he sees it, “a fait accompli” and federal and state highway officials are waiting for the opposition to die off. “It seems that they’re running the clock down on this project,” he said.