SKOWHEGAN — Erosion at North Cemetery off Madison Avenue has collapsed a wide portion of an earthen retaining wall and threatens to expose several graves in the area.

The erosion also is threatening a nearby stream that is part of a watershed restoration project for the protection of native brook trout.

Five burial sites belonging to the Savage family are within about 8 feet of the erosion, and the problem will get worse if not dealt with immediately, town officials said.

“It’s absolutely crucial. It’s critical,” town Code Enforcement Officer Randall Gray said Wednesday. “This is something that the town should not wait on. There’s a massive erosion problem there and it’s going to cause some serious, serious heartache — we’re close to some tombs and same caskets there, so we need to take some fresh action on that.”

Gray alerted the Board of Selectmen to the problem Tuesday night when he sat in for Town Manager John Doucette Jr., who was out of town. Selectmen voted to have Road Commissioner Greg Dore send a highway crew to shore up the area with silt fences and hay bales until an engineer can visit the site.

Gray said he thinks the land the cemetery is on the town owns.

Eroding soil already has migrated down the steep embankment to Whitten Brook, which poses another set of problems, Gray said.

The brook is one of only two or three urban wild brook trout streams in the state and is considered to be an “urban impaired” stream, according to a study begun in December 2010. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to use Whitten Brook as a pilot project for small urban streams in the state and around New England.

The collapse also has taken down a couple of poplar trees and part of a chain-link fence.

Selectmen last April accepted $88,649 in grant money from the Maine Department of  Environmental Protection for the Whitten Brook watershed restoration project.

The money is a performance partnership grant generated through the EPA to change the flow of storm water into the brook from upper Madison Avenue, directly north of the cemetery.

Grave markers closest to the collapsing embankment are from the families of George A. Savage, who died in 1944; and Roy E. Savage, a member of the U.S. cavalry in the Spanish-American War at age 18, who died in 1969.

Christian Savage, at Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce offices in Waterville, son of the late Chamber Director David Savage, said Wednesday he doesn’t recognize either of the two Savage names that appear on the gravestones. He said members of his family are buried on the south side of Skowhegan.

Dore told selectmen Tuesday night that fixing the erosion is going to be expensive. Town Clerk Gail Pelotte said there is $74,000 in a reserve account that can cover costs.

Dore said crews will be at the site today to begin work shoring up the embankment. He said the sand and brown clay that make up the soil in the area appear to be unstable fill material.

He said a similar collapse happened nearby about five years ago.

Dore said he will try to get the engineering firm doing the work for the Whitten Brook restoration project to assist the town in fixing the problem.

“We want to get to it as soon as possible. It is deteriorating,” Dore said Wednesday. “We don’t want to lose any graves or expose any graves.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367
[email protected]