FREEPORT — Maine Department of Transportation officials will be at next week’s Town Council meeting to talk about the department’s clear-cutting of trees along Interstate 295.
Town Manager Peter Joseph said he’s not sure what MDOT plans to say or if the officials will take questions about why the agency cleared trees from Freeport to Brunswick, which removed a natural sound barrier between the highway and nearby homes.
Last month, MDOT had the Drew Corp. of Lovell remove trees along six miles of the highway, at a cost 0f $205,000. Trees were cut back to property lines, exposing many homes to the sights and sounds of the interstate.
Joseph said the purpose was to improve sight lines for drivers, to allow more sunlight onto the highway to melt ice in the winter, and to allow drivers to see animals who might run out into the road.
While he was puzzled by the third explanation – “I don’t know if there’s any evidence of more animal incidences happening here than anywhere else,” he said – Joseph said he understands the other two reasons, and believes residents do, too.
“A lot of people realize it needed to be done,” he said, “but I think they were upset.”
While nothing can be done to reverse what Joseph called a “permanent change,” the town has made efforts to offset the effect of the tree removal. A large berm of dirt and mulch was placed at the end of Elm Street, which dead-ends at the highway.
The berm, which is more than 6 feet tall, was made as large as possible, Joseph said. He said he knows it doesn’t offer much relief, but he hopes it can help.
“The intent of (the berm) is more visual,” Joseph said. “It won’t do much for noise mitigation.”
Vanessa Leigh of 55 Elm St. said she appreciates how “sympathetic” the town has been, but the noise is a problem.
“It wasn’t quiet before, but it’s definitely louder now,” she said. “Obviously we moved here knowing the highway was here, but we never expected such a dramatic clear-cut.”
Leigh said she wasn’t aware the clearing was going to happen until she heard trees being cut down one night.
Joseph said all of the work was done between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., and the town wasn’t warned about when the project would be happening. He said the town received many complaints from residents the morning after the project started.
“As far as I know, there was no notice to the abutters or to the town,” he said.
Joseph said the town found out about the project when Town Engineer Al Presgraves saw the project bid on MDOT’s website and called to ask about it.
“(Presgraves) asked if they would leave the tree line and they said ‘probably,'” Joseph said.
Instead, trees were removed all the way back to the property lines. Joseph said “no details were looked into” about possibly cutting treetops at an angle, instead of removing all the trees, to let more sunlight hit the road.
“I think cost-wise it was a lot more expensive to have someone go out and measure angles, rather than to just cut to the tree line,” he said.
Leigh said she wishes MDOT had put more time into the process and that more thought had gone into the decision.
“It sounds like they cut a little more than was necessary,” she said.
The workshop meeting MDOT is scheduled to attend will be held at the Freeport Community Library on June 16 at 6:30 p.m.
Joseph said State Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, was “instrumental” in getting MDOT to agree to come to the meeting.
Clear-cutting by the Maine Department of Transportation along Interstate 295 from Freeport to Brunswick has left many homes exposed to the sights and sounds of the highway. This is the view from the property line at 55 Elm St.
To hide the view of I-295 from Elm Street, Freeport has constructed a berm of dirt and mulch at the end of the street.