MACHIAS, Maine — The town has acquired a former motel and demolished it as part of an effort to help reduce the impact of occasional flooding of downtown properties along Route 1 where the highway skirts the Machias River.
Rising sea levels have led to flooding at the property of the former Seagull Motel multiple times in recent years, said Christine Terrien, Machias’ town manager. So the town is looking into how it can protect the now vacant lot and adjacent properties along the low-lying section of Route 1 where they’re located from flooding. The public will also be able to access the property once some preliminary landscaping is complete.
The town acquired the property and demolished the former motel building, which most recently housed the Machias River Redemption Center, earlier this year with money donated by Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Therrien said. No taxpayer funds were used for the $163,000 project.
Jacob van de Sande, a project manager with Maine Coast Heritage Trust, said that he first considered options for the motel property a couple of years ago, after the trust started looking into how sea level rise likely will affect the Maine coast. One thing the trust is concerned about is helping to preserve coastal wetlands — which provide key ecological habitat and help absorb flood waters — or to make sure marshes have room to shift inland as they get displaced by rising seas.
Then, in the spring of 2017, a combination of an especially high tide in Machias and surge from a passing storm made it clear how vulnerable the former motel property is to flooding, he said.
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Van de Sande went to see how bad flooding was along that section of road and saw propane tanks floating away from the property, which then was being used as a redemption center.
“There were waves lapping against the back of the building,” he said.
The property has flooded multiple times in recent years, Therrien said, as rising sea levels have pushed unusually high tides higher up the riverbank. Removing the building will prevent further damage, she said, and will provide additional space and parking next to adjacent Norman Nelson Park, which currently has no designated parking.
“It was in really bad shape,” Therrien said of the former motel building. “The river flooded numerous times into the rooms.”
The town has recently resodded the property, and more work is likely in store at the site, the town manager said. The town has applied for and received some grant funding to look into ways it can mitigate flooding along that low section of Route 1, she said, and is looking into establishing a walking path along the river and perhaps even a berm that will protect the road from floods.
There already is a boat ramp not far away behind Helen’s Restaurant, so she does not expect the property to be modified to allow for greater water access.
“We haven’t fully landscaped [the property],” Therrien said. “We’re looking to do more improvements in the future. The riverwalk project always has been part of the downtown plan.”
Van de Sande said that the trust was not interested in owning the property, as it does in many places along the Maine coast, but that it was willing to pay for the project on the condition that the parcel be preserved as green space. He said the removal of the long building, which he described as an “eyesore,” has greatly improved the view of the river from both directions on Route 1.
“We need to focus on the river, because it’s really an asset to the community,” van de Sande said. Removing the building is “not a typical MCHT project, but it’s a natural extension of what we do.”
The repurposing of the old motel site is not the only ongoing improvement project along Route 1 where the road runs close to the edge of the tidal river. In May, Machias Savings Bank announced plans to build a new $5 million headquarters at a higher elevation at 31 Main St., next to Machias Hardware.