This photo, taken Jan. 21, shows the retaining wall on Brunswick Avenue in Gardiner. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

GARDINER — City officials have agreed to partner with the state Department of Transportation to fix a retaining wall on Brunswick Avenue before it fails.

The wall, at 17 Brunswick Ave., suffered a collapse at one end in October after a series of rainstorms. And while it is located within the Department of Transportation’s right of way, the state won’t have money to fix it for three or four years until its next work plan is funded.

But city officials, concerned about safety and the impact a wall failure could have on work on Brunswick Avenue and the sidewalk, are reluctant to wait that long.

“This is a safety decision,” City Manager Christine Landes said at a City Council meeting earlier this month. “If some kid walks up through there and gets hurt, who’s it going to fall on?”

She said that in meetings with DOT officials, the city offered up a number of options, including loaning the money to the state to complete the project.

The only option to emerge, however, was the cost share through the Maine Partnership Initiative program, through which Gardiner has completed other road construction programs — most notably the Highland Avenue project, one of the first such partnerships.

Even so, some city officials are concerned that the city of Gardiner is paying for something for which it is not responsible.

“I’m sort of feeling like I am being taken hostage, like I am being blackmailed,” District 1 City Councilor Terry Berry said at that City Council meeting. “That’s as blunt as I can be.”

But At-large City Councilor Tim Cusick, who works for the Maine Department of Transportation, said the department’s work plan has been published and its employees have been directed to follow it.

“There’s no extra money. There will not be any extra money unless somebody in Augusta decides the pot’s going to fall out of the sky,” he said. “The wall over there is not in immediate danger of failing. The crew has looked at it. If it was in imminent danger of failing it would be repaired under an emergency contract. You can pressure all you want. Good luck.”

With prices of paving coming in astronomically high, Cusick said, money is extremely tight.

“We probably have a pretty good deal here with the MPI to get that done,” he said.

This photo, taken Jan. 21, shows the retaining wall on Brunswick Avenue in Gardiner. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Tony LaPlante, director of Public Works, brought the matter to the City Council. One end of the granite block wall, he said, started to fail after heavy rain last fall. It’s currently covered in sheets of black plastic.

LaPlante said DOT engineers have looked at the wall and a geotechnical evaluation has been completed.

“They’ll give us a set amount of money and we do the project,” he said. “Then it’s on the city to administer the project.”

Because there’s an existing MPI project to mill and fill on Brunswick Avenue onto Bridge Street, LaPlante said the retaining wall could be folded into that project.

It can’t be included in the transportation department’s bridge replacement project that’s now underway, because that funding had been approved before that project started.

On Friday, Department of Transportation Spokesman Paul Merrill confirmed in an email that the DOT is unaware of any emergency money that would be able to fix the wall.

“If the wall fails, the city would have to stabilize the area until capital funds become available,” he said. “Because of the lack of availability of capital funds, MaineDOT has offered to share the cost using region maintenance funds.”

Merrill said DOT and city officials are expected to meet next week to work out the details.

LaPlante said at the City Council meeting that he’d ask whether repairing the sidewalk on Brunswick Avenue in front of the wall could be included.

The mechanism for Gardiner to pay for its share of  the project will be borrowing money by issuing a three-year bond at 3.25% interest.  By the time the first payment is due, another bond with an annual payment of about $72,000 is expected to be paid off.

When the wall is fixed, the granite blocks that are there now will be replaced with something else. LaPlante said they’re too expensive to maintain.

“It’ll be a decorative block wall,” he said. “We’ll have some input on how it looks.”

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