FREEPORT — The Maine Department of Transportation is expected next week to provide the town with a remedy for a tree removal project along Interstate 295 that generated significant criticism last year.
The plan is expected to involve adding vegetation and landscaping along the boundary that separates the highway from nearby homes.
MDOT clear-cut trees along a 6-mile stretch of highway from Freeport to Brunswick last May. The work removed a natural sound barrier between the highway and its neighbors.
At a Town Council workshop in June, many residents vented their anger and frustration at Dale Doughty, of MDOT’s maintenance and operations department, and John Cannell, MDOT’s southern region manager, who said the trees were cut to improve sight lines for drivers, to allow more sun to melt snow and ice on the road in the winter, and to make animals visible before they enter the roadway.
Town Engineer Al Pesgraves this week said MDOT has met with all eight residents of Kendall Lane, Elm and True streets, which abut I-295, over the last month.
Town Councilor Scott Gleeson, who represents District 1, where the abutters live, said MDOT officials have also had four or five meetings with him, Pesgraves, Town Manager Peter Joseph and, occasionally, state Rep. Sara Gideon and state Sen. Stan Gerzofsky.
In November, MDOT spokesman Ted Talbot said MDOT realized the department could have alerted people sooner. Gleeson said he’s glad MDOT has admitted that.
“DOT does acknowledge to some extent they probably didn’t notice this properly,” Gleeson said.
MDOT sent Bob Moosmann, vegetation manager for the agency’s bureau of maintenance and operations, to all the meetings with abutters, where he discussed possible solutions. The options presented would create a better visual for the residents, but wouldn’t do much to abate the noise from the highway.
Talbot on Tuesday said the intention will be to “help provide privacy from the roadway.”
Moosmann told the abutters he plans to put vegetation and landscaping on the town side of the fence that runs along their properties. MDOT doesn’t want to put any vegetation on the state’s side, and officials are also not interested in putting up a wooden fence, which Pesgraves said many abutters requested.
“(Moosmann) said (vegetation) would give them a better result over time than a fence would,” Pesgraves said.
According to Pesgraves, Moosmann said MDOT would have to replace the fence in 10-15 years, but at that point, vegetation would be coming in nicely. This was a point of contention between Moosmann and the abutters, but Pesgraves said the residents eventually understood MDOT’s viewpoint.
Gleeson said he’s received feedback from a few abutters and it was generally positive.
“I think MDOT is definitely making an effort, which I appreciate,” Gleeson said. “They’re seeing what they can do to make the neighbors at least halfway happy, but of course (the abutters) would like to have all the trees back.”
Pesgraves said he expects to receive a plan, with the cost, from Moosmann by next week. The plan will lay out the quantity and type of vegetation to be planted, which Pesgraves said he expects to be some sort of evergreen planting.
Once the cost of the project is known, Pesgraves said MDOT will begin negotiations with the Town Council to determine how much of the cost each will cover. The abutters will not have to pay anything.
Gleeson said the hope is that MDOT will fund everything, or at least most of the cost.
“I fully believe that DOT will do something,” he said. “I don’t think they’d be doing all this if they weren’t planning to contribute something.”
Talbot said planting is expected to take place in the spring. He also said the whole clear-cut area was seeded in the fall, and grass is expected to grow this spring as well.
The Maine Department of Transportation removed trees and vegetation along six miles of Interstate-295 in Freeport last spring.