Permit problem delays Brunswick culvert repairs

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BRUNSWICK — Work to replace culverts damaged during a punishing August rainstorm has been cancelled until the town can obtain a required federal permit for the project. 

Town officials learned about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit this month, just as they were getting ready to replace the culverts on River and Hacker roads. Town staff had planned to complete the project by the end of November.

“It was a surprise to the town, it was a surprise to the consulting engineer we have,” Town Manager John Eldridge said. 

Officials are now worried the project could be delayed until next summer and new requirements from the Army Corps could significantly increase the project cost.

The mid-August rainstorm wreaked havoc on several culverts in town, washing some out completely. In early September, the town council appropriated $200,000 for repairs on four roads.

Although Collinsbrook and Raymond roads can be completed, the town ran into complications with River and Hacker roads because the streams they cross fall within the Androscoggin River watershed and are considered critical habitat for endangered Atlantic salmon. That places the work within the purview of the Army Corps.

The town first learned that it needed the corps’ permission during communication with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection about a permit it requested to remove an aging box culvert near the River Road project, Foster said.

That culvert was almost completely washed out in the August storm, and the town hoped to replace it with two round metal pipes up to four feet wide, Town Engineer John Foster explained. 

In comparison, the corps may require the town to install a single larger arch or concrete box culvert, he said. 

Jay Clement, a senior project manager for the corps, said a recommendation will depend on the specific situation. Although a box or arch culvert that uses a waterway’s natural bottom is ideal, he said there are situations in which the corps has approved different configurations depending on circumstance.

In more than 90 percent of cases the corps only requires a simple, general-purpose permit that can usually be obtained within 90 days, Clement said.

Although the corps has an “active” outreach program to explain the extent of its jurisdiction, it is still a “constant battle” to educate or re-educate towns about their requirements, Clement said. 

In Brunswick’s case, the town caught its mistake just in time, he noted.

“It’s a shame they found out this late in the game, but its better that they found out before they did the work, instead of dealing with us in kind of an enforcement mode,” he said. 

Representatives from the corps and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have planned an early December visit to the area to meet with town officials. 

While the increased cost of the project is a concern, the possibility that another flood could create additional damage is especially troubling,  Eldridge said. 

The River Road culvert largely collapsed during the August storm and some of the road washed out as a result. A smaller pipe was installed inside the broken culvert as a temporary solution, but officials feared it would not survive a major storm.

With the possibility that it may be months before the crossing is fixed permanently, crews have installed an overflow pipe above the River Road culvert to handle excess storm water, Foster said. 

While the Hacker Road crossing was also damaged, it is still capable of handling a heavy storm flow, he added. 

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