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Topsham chairwoman resigns from Riverwalk committee

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Topsham chairwoman resigns from Riverwalk committee

TOPSHAM — The co-chairwoman of a committee trying to develop a Brunswick-Topsham riverwalk resigned abruptly this week, citing a desire to refocus her attention on other projects and in apparent frustration with the pace of the project's Brunswick section.

"I have way too many commitments and must decide what to do with my life – other people's work or mine," Nancy Randolph said in a Monday email to committee members.

Randolph, a Topsham resident, has co-chaired the Androscoggin Brunswick-Topsham Riverwalk committee for the past seven years and is known as a passionate and energetic participant.

The committee was formed in 2007 to put together a 1.25-mile, four-season pedestrian loop between the two towns.

Trails on the Topsham side, which run from the pedestrian Swinging Bridge east to Summer Street and ultimately to Main Street at the Frank J. Wood Bridge, were completed in 2012.

But little work has been completed on the Brunswick side, leading Randolph to question the viability of the project. 

"I was hoping that our project would be constructed this summer but it appears that it is nowhere on the horizon," Randolph wrote.

With "the economy rebounding but donations still not enough to sustain our project," she wants to put her effort into Save Our Swinging Bridge, a group set up to maintain the pedestrian bridge over the Androscoggin River, Randolph said.

The Brunswick section of the riverwalk, an 8-foot wide path running from the Frank J. Woods Bridge around Fort Andross and along heavily trafficked Mill Street, is expected to cost as much as $1 million, according to Brunswick's most recent capital improvement plan.

Eighty percent of the funding is expected to come from a Maine Department of Transportation grant, matched by $200,000 in local contributions. 

In a phone interview Tuesday, Randolph said she was tired of putting her energy into a project that seems to have bogged down, especially after Brunswick was turned down for a DOT grant two years ago.

She said she hopes other committee members will step up to fill the gap she is creating.

"I was devoting one full day a week to this," Randolph said. "I think there's more effort that needs to be done than that committee can do."

Concerns from Brunswick's Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee about plans to widen the sidewalk on Maine Street next to Fort Andross also influenced her decision to step down, Randolph said.

"This is ridiculous, they of all people should be supporting it," Randolph said. "If the Brunswick bicycle-ped committee doesn't fully embrace it, why even waste my time?"

Randolph's sudden decision surprised other committee members, who largely declined to comment until the group has a chance to meet.

The Brunswick co-chairwoman, Cathy Lamb, in an email Wednesday said the group appreciated Randolph's many years of dedicated service and hard work. 

"Much has been accomplished during her tenure and we have now a beautiful Riverwalk on the Topsham side of the river," Lamb said. 

She acknowledged fundraising goal of the committee will be challenging, but insisted the panel is committed to making the project a reality.

"While nonprofit projects  are never easy, we believe that the tremendous benefit   fully accessible riverfront will bring the town of Brunswick means that the project must and will be completed," Lamb said. 

Maine DOT turned down Brunswick's funding request in 2012, but provided money for a crosswalk on Mill Street to indicate its interest in the effort, town engineer John Foster said. 

The town has only until the end of August to resubmit its plans to qualify for DOT funding in 2017, he said.

Foster confirmed that the town's bicycle-pedestrian committee raised concerns about wider sidewalks and barriers along upper Maine Street.

Mainly, committee members were worried that extending the sidewalk would further limit space for cyclists on the narrow street, he said, although it seemed that a compromise could be reached. 

Foster agreed that there is still a lot of work to do on the Riverwalk project, but it is still being actively pursued, albeit without Randolph.

"There's no two ways about it, she was a major mover of the Riverwalk project and she had tons of energy," Foster said. "Certainly her presence on the committee is going to be sorely missed."

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or pmcguire@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter @mcguiremidcoast.