AUGUSTA — City councilors are poised to approve additional funding Thursday to build a fire station in north Augusta, which would keep the project moving toward completion in December, despite concerns about unstable clay soil and a permit issue relating to bats that could have delayed the project.

The timing is important because December is also the month the city’s new, $1 million multipurpose “quint” fire ladder truck is scheduled to be arrive, and the new truck is too big and heavy to fit into any of the city’s existing fire stations, officials said.

Funding of $3.6 million for the fire station and $1 million to buy the firetruck was approved by voters in November 2014.

But soil boring at the proposed site, on Leighton Road at its intersection with Anthony Avenue, revealed the soil is made up of soupy clay; and engineers expressed concern it would not be able to support the weight of the fire station and the water-laden fire trucks it will hold without the cement floor potentially cracking. So they recommend inserting steel pilings into the ground, at least 60 feet through the clay to bedrock below the station, at an estimated cost of $500,000.

Though some councilors initially expressed concerns about sticking with that site and building the station on pilings in the ground, last week those same councilors indicated they are now in favor of the proposed site.

On Thursday, councilors are scheduled to vote on whether to approve the additional funding, which is expected to keep the project on track to start construction around April and be complete in December, according to City Manager William Bridgeo.

Last week, Bridgeo warned councilors the project faced another potential challenge that could delay it, a new federal permit requirement, published just last month, meant to protect northern long-eared bats, the population of which has been decimated by white-nose syndrome.

The new rules are meant to help protect the animal, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. They require the Army Corps of Engineers, which must sign off on a stream crossing for the project, to receive notification from the federal Fish and Wildlife Service that the city’s plans to cut down about a dozen trees would not harm bats.

Also, Bridgeo said, the Fish and Wildlife Service had a backlog of requests to confirm that various projects across the country would not affect bats.

Bridgeo said he contacted U.S. Sen. Angus King’s office, and the staff there contacted officials of the Fish and Wildlife Service to help move the application along. He said the application for the new fire station was “pulled out of the pile and reviewed,” and the service notified the Army Corps of Engineers the project would affect neither long-eared bats nor Atlantic salmon.

Bridgeo said if the wildlife service hadn’t been able to review the application promptly this winter, when no bats are in the trees, it could have delayed the review and tree-cutting until this summer, when there could have been bats in the trees, which would have delayed the project for another year.

“So thanks to Sen. King and his staff for assisting us in this matter. They were very helpful,” Bridgeo said Tuesday.

The council vote Thursday will be on whether to cover the unanticipated additional $500,000 in cost with money collected in property taxes in multiple tax increment financing, or TIF, districts. Ralph St. Pierre, finance director and assistant city manager, said the city has collected $847,600 in property taxes on new development in five TIF districts in the city. Each of those TIFs was established with potential allowed uses, including expenditures for Fire Department infrastructure. That money will more than cover the additional cost and keep the project moving forward without requiring an increase in the property tax rate.

Bridgeo said it could take another 30 to 60 days for the city to obtain the remaining permits for the project, and the goal is to break ground around April.

Councilors plan to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday in council chambers at Augusta City Center. Councilors also are scheduled to:

• Consider reducing the per capita fees charged to the seven other municipalities that use the city-owned Hatch Hill landfill — Chelsea, Farmingdale, Gardiner, Hallowell, Manchester, Randolph and Whitefield — from $15 per resident to $10 per resident;

• Accept a donation of furniture, with an estimated value of $270,000, for the expanded Lithgow Public Library from the Friends of Lithgow Library;

• Consider changing city regulations to allow two-hour parking on the northern end of Water Street between Bridge Street and the railroad trestle; and

• Meet in a closed-door session to discuss pending litigation.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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