State promises not to repeat last year's Freeport tree-cutting debacle

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YARMOUTH — About a year after it came under fire for clear-cutting a swath of land along Interstate 295 in Freeport, the Maine Department of Transportation will again be cutting trees along the highway in Freeport and Yarmouth later this month.

But this time MDOT says it will be “selectively cutting,” between Mile 14 and Mile 21 on both sides of I-295. Work is expected to be complete before the end of August.

MDOT spokesman Ted Talbot said the agency will be removing select trees close to the highway, and will not be cutting back to property lines. He said trees that throw more shade on the road will be cut, but he didn’t know exactly how many trees will come down.

In May 2015, MDOT clear-cut trees along a 6-mile stretch of highway from Freeport to Brunswick, which removed a natural sound barrier between I-295 and nearby homes. The project was done without warning to town officials or residents.

Talbot said this project is being handled differently, and MDOT has already met with officials from Yarmouth and Freeport. He said residents will be notified this week.

“This is an overabundance of caution to make sure everyone is aware,” he said.

Talbot said he’s not certain how many residents live near where the trees will be removed, but he said it’s a small number of households. He also said the impact won’t be as severe as the clear-cut in Freeport, because many trees will remain.

A map of where the project will take place can be found at the Freeport and Yarmouth town halls, as well as at the MDOT regional office in Scarborough.

To offset the effects of last year’s cutting, MDOT last month offered Freeport $20,000 for plantings and a fence. 

Talbot said MDOT is cutting trees in many areas of the state to improve sight lines for drivers, to allow more sunlight to fall on the road and accelerate snow and ice melt, and so animals can be more easily seen before they enter the road. 

“Having a clear zone along our roadways is an important consideration in road design,” MDOT Safety Manager Duane Brunell said. “Clearing our roadways of brush and trees is a first step to help ensure our roads are safe, both for visibility and to help reduce the number of crashes.”

According to a press release from MDOT, most fatal crashes in Maine happen because a vehicle goes off the road and hits a tree. Over the past four years, an annual average of 1,700 motorists in Maine have struck trees, with an average of 37 of those accidents resulting in death.

Additionally, between June 26 and July 6 of this year, there have been five fatalities in Maine due to motorists striking trees.

The selective cutting in Freeport and Yarmouth will take place during daytime hours and won’t result in any lane closures.

“This won’t have much impact on the traveling public,” Talbot said.

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

The Maine Department of Transportation clear cut trees along Interstate 295 in Freeport last year. This summer the agency will be “selectively cutting” trees between Freeport and Yarmouth.

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.