FARMINGTON — Selectmen unanimously voted to enter a $44,307 agreement with the U.S. Forest Service to oversee a project to stabilize the eroding bank along the Sandy River at Whittier Road.

Town officials have been eager to make progress on the project, which has been bogged down in the permitting and paperwork phase, because as spring continues there is an increased likelihood the river will swell and collapse the road or at least damage it enough for the town to close the section as a precautionary measure.

The town has been trying to stabilize the bank, which has eroded to 30 feet from the road, since August 2011 when a storm caused a 50-foot-wide, 300-foot-long chunk of earth to fall into the river.

The town adopted a project that is a compromise between previously competing proposals presented by environmental consultants hired by the town and by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Consultants proposed a project using boulders along the base and rootwads inserted into the bank. The Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a plan using logs and creating an Atlantic salmon-friendly habitat that would not increase the current flowing downstream. The town and the consultants were concerned the Fish and Wildlife plan was proposing a less sturdy structure that would create a habitat for the endangered fish at the risk of the road.

The compromise plan uses fewer boulders but would still create a strong base that would effectively remove the risk of the road collapsing from erosion.

Town Manager Richard Davis said now that the town has approved the plan, the various agencies that need to approve the project can officially sign off on it. Davis said the agencies were all present at a discussion of the proposal last Friday and voiced their approval.

Davis said the project eventually will amass debris floating downstream and naturally add more material to the stabilized embankment.

The selectmen also spoke about creating a formal river plan to proactively maintain the riverbanks and be better prepared in the event a similar problem occurs. The plan likely would involve conducting a study through U.S. Fish and Wildlife to gauge the feasibility of re-routing the river farther away from the Whittier Road.

The stabilization project will cost between $280,000 and $320,000, though the town pays just 25 percent of the total cost because of a grant through FEMA, according to Public Works Director Denis Castonguay.

Davis said he learned Thursday just before the selectmen’s meeting that they may be unable to use the FEMA grant to pay $44,000 to the U.S. Forest Service because regulations may prevent them from using one source of federal money to pay another federal agency. If they were not allowed to use the FEMA grant to pay the Forest Service, the town would owe the full $44,000 instead of $11,000.

The selectmen still agreed to approve the project and risk paying the additional $33,000.

According to the project timeline, the town will receive the full project specifications and structure recommendations by May 24 and the final biological assessment will be presented to the Fish and Wildlife Service by June 7.

The project construction tentatively will get under way July 29 and last to Aug. 9. Davis said they are hoping to quickly finish the paperwork and permitting portion of the project because they are allowed to build along the riverbank only between July 15 and Sept. 15, so not to disrupt the endangered salmon.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252
[email protected]

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