FARMINGTON — A road that is being undermined steadily by the erosion of a nearby riverbank will remain closed until spring, town officials have decided.

“It just came down to public safety. That was the bottom line,” Public Works Director Denis Castonguay said after inspecting the road Tuesday with Town Manager Richard Davis and environmental engineering consultant Rick Jones.

Whittier Road was first closed Oct. 30 when it was feared that Hurricane Sandy could accelerate an ongoing erosion problem along the Sandy River.

At the time, Davis said he hoped to reopen the road within a week; but further erosion seen during Tuesday’s inspection led him to close the road for an extended period.

“What we’re seeing is every high water becoming more and more dangerous,” Castonguay said.

In August 2011, Tropical Storm Irene caused a 50-foot-wide, 300-foot-long section of the riverbank to collapse into the water. The distance between the road and the riverbank has been shrinking ever since, and currently stands at about 30 feet.

Castonguay said the closure seems to be slowing the erosion, because there are fewer vibrations caused by passing vehicles.

“Since the road’s been closed, we’ve actually seen a reduction, a slowdown of the sand tumbling,” he said.

The rate of erosion also was slowed over the summer when the town cut down a handful of trees, which were rocking in the soil when the wind blew.

Despite the town’s efforts, officials still are concerned that the road might be lost before a banking stabilization project can be undertaken.

Local officials had hoped to fix the banking during the summer, but it was stalled because federal officials were concerned that the project could hurt local populations of the endangered Atlantic salmon.

If the Federal Emergency Management Agency signs off on the $277,170 project over the winter, it can be done in June.

Castonguay said the road won’t necessarily be opened in the spring.

“We’re going to monitor it,” he said. “We’re certainly not going to open it with ice floes and high waters.”

Traffic around the closed road is detoured about four miles onto Seamon, Knowlton Corner and Lucy Knowles roads. Police were assigned to enforce the detour during a local football game after road residents complained people were driving their cars on lawns and along the ditch of the road to get around the concrete barriers.

A bypass road was considered but is unlikely, because it could not be built until summer, and town officials hope the issue will be resolved by then.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
mhhetling@centralmaine.com