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Time expires for effort to hide wires on Harpswell's Cribstone Bridge

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Time expires for effort to hide wires on Harpswell's Cribstone Bridge

HARPSWELL — The three-year restoration of the Cribstone Bridge appears to be right on schedule.

But time may have run out for the group that hoped the revamped span between Orr's and Bailey Island would be devoid of visible utility wires.

According to assistant Town Manager Terri Sawyer, a subcommittee of the Harpswell Historical Society has all but abandoned its attempt to convince the 2010 Town Meeting to seek grants to pay the estimated $50,000 cost to hide the wires within the renovated bridge.

The group had been lobbying the Board of Selectmen to put the issue on the Town Meeting warrant. However, according to Jim Wentworth, the Maine Department of Transportation's project manager for the $11 million project, work on the bridge is far enough along that hiding the wires now would be cost prohibitive. 

"I'm not saying it's too late," Wentworth said. "But the castings are done. ... Anything done now would require drilling. It would take a lot more effort and money."

Increased cost was the main reason the project never came to be. In 2008, voters earmarked $35,000 to hide the wires, and spent $13,000 of it. The town later learned that the effort would cost an additional $15,000. In a March Town Meeting marked by fears of a deepening recession, voters rejected the second allocation.

A group of residents later asked selectmen not to allow the remaining funds to lapse into the general fund and to seek grants to fund the effort. The group, formed as a subcommittee of the Harpswell Historical Society, argued that hiding the wires would be safer and more aesthetically pleasing.

Although the group made its case in several meetings with the Board of Selectmen, Sawyer said selectmen interpreted the most recent Town Meeting decision to mean voters wouldn't support the effort. The board told the group to conduct polling to see if there was interest in revisiting the issue next March.

Sawyer said she contacted Constance Barker, who headed the group, to invite her to the Dec. 17 selectmen meeting. Sawyer said Barker told her that the group had disbanded because it was too late. 

Barker couldn't be reached this week.

Meanwhile, Wentworth said renovation of the 81-year-old bridge is on schedule. Work began in 2008, and required the construction of a temporary bridge to be used while workers replaced the decking and cribwork of the old span.

The Cribstone Bridge is the only one of its type in the world. Its concrete deck rests atop an interlocking web of granite cribwork that allows tides to ebb and flow freely through the structure. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is a Maine Civil Engineering Landmark.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net

Photo:
The $11 million restoration of the Cribstone Bridge took a brief Thanksgiving break. However, the Harpswell Historical Society's effort to persuade residents to make tax-deductible contributions to finance the removal of telephone poles and the overhead power lines is on permanent vacation. The society learned from MDOT officials that the effort would now be cost prohibitive.