2016-07-07 / News

Bridge upgrade nullifies historic status

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

SACO – Councilors who were upset that Stackpole Bridge would not be rehabbed to the historic standards originally planned said they will not pursue a reconsideration of the contract. City Administrator Kevin Sutherland wrote a memo to councilors on June 21 with an update on the project.

Sutherland said the Maine Historic Preservation Commission provided an opinion that the design for the bridge project would not meet the National Register of Historic Places criteria for evaluation.

“However, MHPC did commend the city on our continuing efforts to rehabilitate the bridge versus completely removing it,” Sutherland wrote.

Kirk Mohney, director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, wrote to the city in response to a request from City Planner Bob Hamblen on whether the design by CPM Constructors would be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. CPM Constructors is a Freeport company contracted to rehab Stackpole Bridge.

“The previous Structures North plan for the rehabilitation of the bridge preserved the historic design, materials and workmanship of the entire structure by leaving the masonry walls and arch intact while introducing modern structural features in the core,” wrote Mohney.

“In contrast, the new plan retains the arch but demolishes the rest of the bridge to build a precast ‘T’ wall retention system faced with a veneer of stone from the original structure. Although this approach will preserve the arch, it will result in the removal of the balance of the fabric that constitutes the historic bridge as originally designed and constructed. We conclude that the Stackpole Bridge’s integrity of design, materials and workmanship will be lost in the process, and that it will no longer be eligible for listing in the National Register.”

Ward 1 City Councilor David Precourt said, “This is like an I-told-you-so moment, but I don’t want it to be an I-told-you-so moment and then turn around in an opposite direction … To turn around and try and change directions now would cost the taxpayers more money.”

Sutherland wrote in his memo, “Changing course now would result in greater expense to the city, potential exposure to litigation, and a lot of lost good will.”

Sutherland said the design costs for the bridge are at $90,000 and growing, and other bridge structure proposals ranged from $856,000 for a new concrete structure to $1.17 million for a single arch with reuse of the stones as a facade, both options being new bridges, not restoration efforts.

Sutherland said the city would also lose a $450,000 low-interest loan from the state, which would expire in 2017 if not used.

“Council voted to reallocate $370,000 to rehabilitate the bridge. The current contract is rehabilitation, whereas other bids mentioned were not,” Sutherland said.

Precourt said the new design doesn’t preserve as much as the bridge as originally planned.

“The only part that’s worth preserving (in the new plan) is the part that’s most dangerous, the archway,” Precourt said. “That’s no way near what was being proposed originally … All the part that would have been good about the bridge is being thrown away for the arches.”

Precourt said the archway culvert underneath the bridge is not large enough to let high waters flow through and ends up backing up water pressure on the bridge.

“(Department of Environmental Protection) standards are supposed to be one and a half times the streambed width,” Precourt said. “Now it’s 7-by-12, not big enough for a stream in a highwater event. There will be extra maintenance costs involved every time debris get caught up there. Not one of those things I wanted to see happen. I think a new bridge would have been better … but it’s not worth the I-told-you-so moment and turning this into a political mess.”

Ward 5 City Councilor Alan Minthorn, who made a motion at a recent city council meeting to reconsider the contract but was ruled out of order by Mayor Roland Michaud, said, “At this point, I think it’s quite unfortunate that our contract wasn’t written better and that it wouldn’t have halted the expenses when they determined that the pathway would have been different. Immediately when they figured that out, it should have come back full circle. And council wasn’t aware of it sooner.”

Minthorn said the argument made to the council for an additional $370,000 to be allocated to the project was that the money would help to maximize the historical preservation of the bridge.

“Historical preservation seemed to be of equal importance to them as usability was,” Minthorn said. “And once you’ve lost that component, and not having the built-in stops in the contract has allowed it to move forward now … It’s stumbling block after stumbling block that I think a more proactively worded contract would have prohibited.

“At this point, we’re still going to have a bridge that’s still going to require maintenance cleaning out the keyhole so to speak.”

Sutherland said that even though the design wouldn’t qualify for the National Register of Historic Places, Mohney still commended the city in an email.

“We commend the decision of the residents of Saco and the City Council to support the rehabilitation of the historic Stackpole Bridge,” wrote Mohney. “While it may no longer be eligible for listing in the National Register after the current construction plans are implemented, Saco will still possess a visually distinctive bridge that incorporates an authentic 19th-century feature into a modern structure designed to convey the general appearance of its 168-year-old predecessor.”

Sutherland said he has instructed Public Works Director Patrick Fox to move forward in order to complete the project this calendar year and within the budget set by the council and in the contract with CPM Constructors.

“I hope that you will continue to support my decision,” Sutherland said.

Precourt said he wasn’t pleased to hear of the nonqualification as a historic place from the public instead of from staff. Sutherland apologized to the councilors that they did not receive the information before hearing it from a member of the public during the public comment section of a council meeting.

“I think the whole process of how Saco is doing business is stuck in the 80s,” said Minthorn. “We’re kind of stuck with what we got, but it’s unfortunate that it could have, and should have been stopped. Quite possibly, we could have saved the taxpayers a quarter million dollars, but we’ll never know.”

Minthorn said he and other councilors are likely to look at contracting proposals in greater detail in the future.

“Generally it’s a yes or no (vote by council) and then the contract takes on a life of its own,” he said. “There is going to be more scrutiny moving forward.”

As for his previous attempts to have the contract reconsidered, Minthorn said, “At this point, it’s water under the bridge.”

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