FARMINGTON — Now that a bank stabilization project to protect Whittier Road from a crumbling riverbank will not take place this year, town officials said that hurricane season is likely to accelerate erosion at the site.

“It’s now clear that it won’t happen this year,” Town Manager Richard Davis said of the stalled $277,000 construction project.

Ever since last August, when tropical storm Irene caused a major collapse of the bank of the Sandy River, the distance between the riverbank and Whittier Road has been shrinking, and is currently about 30 feet.

Now, Davis said, there is another weather system that threatens to wreak havoc on the riverbank.

“Next week, potentially, there’s a hurricane headed this way. It’s a tropical storm at this point,” Davis said.

Davis said that the town has ordered barricades and signs that will allow them to close the road more easily, and the town has spent about $20,000 on the issue so far, which could cause the public works department to go over budget.

For months, Farmington has been seeking approval and funding for the stabilization project on the Sandy River from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but the agency’s response has been delayed because of concerns about the possible impact of the project on the endangered Atlantic salmon.

The timetable has been compressed because work can be done on the river only when the salmon are not spawning, which begins September 15. Even though the bank stabilization project itself will take only three weeks to complete, it will be delayed until July.

The federal agency would not declare the site an emergency, which would have allowed the project to move forward more quickly.

In order to demonstrate that the project won’t hurt the salmon population, the town has been asked to provide a biological assessment, for which they have hired Environmental Consultant Steve Jones of Poland Spring.

One problem, Davis said, is that the federal agency has been slow to articulate what specific information should be contained within the biological assessment.

“The FEMA folks are kind of building this bicycle while they’re riding it,” Davis said. “They couldn’t point to any similar biological assessments that have been done anywhere.”

The Sandy River is a key spawning ground for the salmon population, the focus of a recent multimillion dollar restoration project in the Merrymeeting Bay, which is at the mouth of the Kennebec River. The Sandy River is a tributary of the Kennebec.

“This whole salmon reintroduction program under the Endangered Species Act is relatively new, I think, and so I’m not sure if they have much experience with it,” Davis said.

Davis said that, during a conference call last week, federal officials agreed to work with the environmental consultant this week to help identify what information is needed in the assessment.

Based on that, the consultant will know the scope of the project, and provide an estimate to the town’s board of selectmen so that the work on the assessment can begin.

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