FARMINGTON — Selectmen on Tuesday night unanimously approved committing $200,000 as a match for a $2 million federal grant to replace the Rail Trail Bridge over the Sandy River. The money will be appropriated later.

In September $5,000 was approved toward a preengineering report required for the Economic Development Administration grant. That money was to come from the Rail Trail Bridge Reserve Account.

The $200,000 may come from the Downtown Tax Increment Financing Account or an alternative source, Town Manager Christian Waller said.

The railroad bridge that allowed snowmobiles to cross the Sandy River was removed several years ago. Since then, the town, the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments and the state have looked at ways to replace it. A study in the early 2000s estimated the cost at $1.6 million.

The latest estimate for final engineering, permitting, trail and bridge construction is $2.5 million. Preengineering and environmental reports cost $25,000 and project management and a long-term maintenance fund is $200,000, bringing the total cost to $2.725 million.

The sum of $345,000 has been received or committed toward the project, leaving a $200,000 match needed for the grant and $180,000 to be raised for management/maintenance.

“It will be a 336-foot long bridge,” High Peaks Alliance Executive Director Brent West said. “I believe it will be the longest pedestrian, longest single-span snowmobile bridge in the state of Maine if we’re successful in building it.”

The bridge will be of cable-stayed design with seven sections of trusses welded together suspended by cable.

Joe Higgins, snowmobile program supervisor for the state Bureau of Parks and Land, has reviewed the plan and said “it’s up to his standards,” West said.

Last month, West asked for a $300,000 gift from the town to meet the grant’s Jan. 31 deadline. He hoped selectmen would gift the $200,000 needed.

“I think we’re seeing a lot of support regionally for this,” West said. Ten local snowmobile clubs are in support and Wilton selectpersons are expected to write a letter of support, he said.

An economic impact study estimated during construction that 25 jobs would be created and there would be $1.5 million in regional spending, West said. Long-term, the project would bring $861,000 annually to the local economy, providing upward of 13 jobs in the area, he noted.

“Those numbers are a pretty good indication this is a good investment for the town,” West said.

Selectman Joshua Bell wanted to verify money could be committed now and appropriated later.

Permitting, obtaining letters from all agencies and determining the final design must be completed, so there’s no way it can happen this year, West noted. If the grant is approved, everything would be in place to build the bridge — if not, other funding sources would be needed, he said.

“This first shot is the best shot, then after that it’s multiple federal funds to come up with that same amount,” West noted.

Selectman Stephan Bunker asked about opportunities for the county to share in the costs.

“If the grant is awarded, the county can still be approached for some of the other $180,000,” Waller said.

If the grant doesn’t come through, the county could be approached then, West added.

Waller spoke about a letter written by the Shiretown Riders Snowmobile Club, which described snowmobiles and pedestrians trying to cross Center Bridge sidewalks in winter while tractor-trailers pass by.

“The $200,000 seems relatively modest in terms of public safety,” Waller said.

“Our intention is to get the bridge built,” West said.


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