Freeport: State funding limits I-295 landscape fix

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FREEPORT — The Maine Department of Transportation has offered $20,000 – less than the town hoped to receive – for fencing and landscaping to offset the effects of a tree removal project last year along Interstate 295.

While the funds should be sufficient enough to cover the cost of materials, there isn’t enough money to pay for labor. MDOT is having the town do the work and won’t be reimbursing the cost of wages.

“The town will contribute substantial in-kind through our workforce doing the installation,” Town Manager Peter Joseph said, adding “it’s lower than what a lot of people would have liked, but we’re grateful it’s something.”

Pending a final agreement, Joseph said the money will be used to install a fence and plant trees and shrubs on the town side of a chain-link fence along I-295 that has already been installed. The agreement will go to the Town Council for approval next month.

In May of 2015, MDOT clear-cut trees along a six-mile stretch of highway from Freeport to Brunswick, which removed a natural sound barrier between I-295 and nearby homes. After the trees were harvested, MDOT removed stumps and debris and planted grass.

MDOT officials told residents and councilors the trees were cut to improve sight lines for drivers, to allow more sunlight to fall on the road and accelerate snow and ice melt, and so animals are be more easily seen before they enter the road. Town officials and residents have said they were unaware the project was planned until it was happening. 

Councilors looked at the draft $20,000 agreement June 7. After the final agreement is approved, the town will enter separate agreements with individual residents who will be impacted by the work.

Joseph said the work will be done along eight properties at the ends of True and Elm streets, and Kendall Lane.

“It’s essentially a spot-fix, which I think is not the original intent,” Joseph said.

MDOT officials had discussions with residents in November about how to offset the sights and sounds of the interstate. Joseph said the feeling from residents was that MDOT would create a barrier along the entire length of the clear-cut area.

“The $20,000 was what the DOT offered, and that really limited the scope of what we could do,” he said. “We would have extended it to more spots if more money had been offered.”

State Rep. Sara Gideon, who represents Freeport, played a large role in getting MDOT to offer funds, Joseph said. Without her, the town would have received less money, or none at all.

Joseph said while people were hoping for more, the town is grateful for the $20,000.

He said MDOT outlined the landscaping project for the town in the draft agreement and included cost estimates for all needed materials. The trees will mostly be evergreens, with some hemlocks as well. Landscaping is estimated to cost $14,000-$15,000 and fencing is estimated at $4,000-$5,000.

Once the agreements are finalized, the town will decide where to buy materials, Joseph said. He said the work should be done by the end of summer or in the fall.

 Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

MDOT has offered to give Freeport $20,000 so the town can plant trees and bushes on the town side of a fence built after a clear cut took place along Interstate 295 last year. MDOT seeded the area last fall, and grass has now grown where the trees once stood.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.