2018-08-23 / Front Page

Easements from mill owners nearly secured to expand RiverWalk

By Abigail Worthing
Staff Writer


The Biddeford City Council reviewed plans to expand the RiverWalk along the banks of the Saco River, where it will join existing features like the pedestrian bridge, which crosses the Saco River and provides walkability for pedestrians who cross between the mill districts of Biddeford and Saco. See story on page 3. (Abigail Worthing photo) The Biddeford City Council reviewed plans to expand the RiverWalk along the banks of the Saco River, where it will join existing features like the pedestrian bridge, which crosses the Saco River and provides walkability for pedestrians who cross between the mill districts of Biddeford and Saco. See story on page 3. (Abigail Worthing photo) BIDDEFORD – When the RiverWalk was conceptualized, the aim was to provide walkability to the mill districts in Biddeford and Saco.

Phase 1 of the plan cost about $550,000 and included the Overlook Plaza, located off the North Dam Mill parking lot, and Laconia Plaza, nestled on the waterfront between the Mill at Saco Falls and North Dam Mill. It was followed by a $709,000 footbridge that spans the Saco River between Biddeford and Saco.

Now, five years after the conception of the plan and four years after construction of Overlook Plaza, the city council will consider plans for an expansion.


Signs such as these line the RiverWalk, directing pedestrians as they walk to their desired destination along the path. (Abigail Worthing photo) Signs such as these line the RiverWalk, directing pedestrians as they walk to their desired destination along the path. (Abigail Worthing photo) During a city council workshop on Aug. 14, principal engineer Stephanie Hubbard of engineering firm Wright- Pierce presented the next phase for the RiverWalk, which will extend from Laconia Plaza, near the Biddeford entrance to the footbridge, along the riverfront to a proposed new Pearl Plaza, located further upriver near Pearl Street. The cumulative price of all renovations will be $2.5 million, taken from the city’s tax increment financing funds. The project has preliminary approval from the property owners, Doug Sanford and Tim Harrington. However, easements will need to be signed prior to construction. Easements couldn’t be formally agreed on without finalized plans, but now that plans are completed, Economic Development Director Mathew Eddy assured the council that remaining formalities will be negotiated and signed.

“I feel pretty comfortable that we have everything in place,” Eddy said.

Of potential renovations are a Saco Falls Boardwalk, River Dam Boardwalk and Pearl Plaza, all of which will provide further access for pedestrian traffic. The Saco River boardwalk is proposed to be a 10-foot steel walkway with wood treads and rails that will follow the river retaining wall near the falls, whereas River Dam Boardwalk will be of similar construction further up the river. Pearl Plaza is proposed to be a recreational space with a section for food truck pullouts.

During the Aug. 14 presentation, Hubbard showed before and after pictures of different sections of the existing RiverWalk to demonstrate benefits already made to the community through the project.

Hubbard also detailed concerns and challenges that face the project, for example, with the many elevation changes in the proposed renovation zone comes the need for ADA compliance, with proposed exterior lifts and internal elevators to provide access to not only those in wheelchairs, but those with strollers.

“We just spent a million dollars on Waterhouse Field, which, don’t get me wrong, looks great, but we don’t have access to it,” said Councilor At-large Marc Lessard. “I don’t think we should spend another penny on a project without access.”

Lessard’s sentiments were echoed by Councilor At- Large Laura Seaver, who urged the council to ensure all easements were secured prior to putting any more funding into the project.

Factoring into the budget are allowances for project expenses such as additional maintenance workers and provisions for closures in inclement weather for safety reasons, as portions of the new sections of the RiverWalk show flooding potential.

Detailed in the presentation was a timeline of what Hubbard called an “aggressive schedule” for the project, immediately moving forward with final designs, coordinating easements in the fall and securing council approval and authority to solicit project bids by November. Should the project follow this timeline, construction could begin in 2019. Hubbard cautioned the council that with the current market, proposals could be returned with a higher rate than what is estimated. The plans will be presented again to the council prior to approval and councilors will hold an executive session to discuss terms prior to easement negotiations.

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