Brunswick council wants more information in 'Green Bridge' debate

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BRUNSWICK — The Town Council has questions – 64 of them – about the “Green Bridge.”

Councilors want more information about the Maine Department of Transportation’s opinion that the 84-year-old structure should be replaced, and the argument by Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge that it should be preserved.

The council reviewed the list of questions, written by individual councilors, at a workshop June 23 before sending it to the two parties. DOT and the Friends are expected to provide answers at the council’s July 18 meeting.

The questions came after the council twice tabled a resolution supporting MDOT’s recommendation. Councilors seem split in their opinions on new construction, and have repeatedly asked for more information before making a judgement.

A resolution — whether for or against MDOT’s plans – would be largely symbolic, according to Town Manager John Eldridge. The bridge carries a state road across the Androscoggin River, and is ultimately a state project.

Despite the lack of jurisdiction, there is no shortage of opinions about the plans, asking the town to support and consult in MDOT’s designs, or to fight for preservation through a federal historic review process. 

Some civic groups, like the Brunswick Development Corp. and the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber of Commerce, back DOT’s plan. Councilors Kathy Wilson and Alison Harris have also expressed strong support for a new, modern crossing.

Yet the decision has been dogged by critics since it was announced.

Brunswick and Topsham residents organized as Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge have spoken out at public meetings, created a Facebook page that has gathered almost 830 likes, and written a 21-page report criticizing DOT’s decision and arguing for preservation.

They hope to reverse DOT’s plan by intervening as a consulting party in the historic preservation review. The process under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act allows members of the public to sign on as consulting parties to assess adverse effects to a historic structure.

Representatives from the town will also participate in that process.

DOT maintains that replacing the bridge is the best and most cost-effective option. They say a new, $12 million-$13 million bridge would last 100 years, while rehabilitation would cost $10 million for just a 30-year lifespan.

Critics, however, say rehabbed bridges in other communities that have been made to last much longer than 30 years. They say it would be irresponsible to tear down the historic structure, which has been deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

The last time councilors tabled the resolution, June 6, they promised to pose questions to MDOT and the Friends in writing, with the goal of hearing concrete answers the next time they take up the discussion.

The final set of questions seeks more detail from MDOT about how the state department arrived at its recommendation, such as defining the differences between a 30- and 75-year rehabilitation; maintenance and closure schedules for new construction vs. repairs, and how much weight the old bridge can bear.

There are also questions targeting the information the Friends have provided. Councilors asked the Friends to provide the cost to renovate bridges in other states they hold up as examples of preservation. They also want the Friends to define their credentials and sources of information.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

The 84-year-old Frank J. Wood Bridge between Brunswick and Topsham.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.