Blue Hill Selectmen to facilitate bridge committee

ELLSWORTH — Plans for the historic Falls Bridge, which needs to be rehabilitated or replaced, took a small step forward last week.

The Blue Hill Selectmen met Jan. 4 with officials from the Maine Department of Transportation Bridge program, including project manager Andrew Lathe and Wayne Frankhauser, bridge program manager.

Also at the meeting were representatives from the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Program, Maine Division, including environmental engineer Cassandra Chase.

The focus of the meeting was to discuss the planning process and the state’s proposal that the town form a bridge advisory committee. Ultimately, it was decided two days later at the board’s weekly Friday meeting that Schatz would serve as facilitator of the bridge advisory committee.

The Maine DOT had last presented options for the bridge to the public during an August 2015 hearing.

However, officials have gained information since then, particularly about the historic and environmental significance of the Falls Bridge site, which has resulted in looking anew at possibilities.

The process has been frustrating for the selectmen.

“We had gotten to the point where we could have reached consensus within three or four more meetings,” Schatz said. “Then all of a sudden, it was, ‘we’re not really ready to take these next steps.’ Now it’s evolved to the point where we need to introduce some other thinking or some other departments in the process.

“We’re talking about a bridge that serves 4,000 people on a routine basis and maybe two towns. Maybe double that traffic in the summer. We’re not talking about a bridge in Falmouth.”

“Public input is important, but it’s not as complicated I think as you’re featuring this,” Schatz said.

Frankhauser said he disagreed.

“That’s why we brought federal highway with us today,” Frankhauser said. “The plain and simple of it is when we use federal money, there are federal regulations we have to follow.

“That’s what turns this into a federal process. It may not have a big volume, but there are other key things. It’s considered historic. There’s a whole wealth of environmental issues. To us, it’s an extremely complex project.”

“There truly are many other constraints that we don’t know where they are going to take the project,” Frankhauser said. “For example environmental constraints, those can very easily change the ranking of an option.”

The next step will be for the Board of Selectmen to ask residents to serve on the committee.

Selectman John Bannister said the board already had names of residents in mind for the project.

Schatz said the committee wouldn’t be convened until the DOT was ready to start meeting.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.
Jennifer Osborn

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