A swollen Kennebec River on Dec. 19 climbs up buildings on the backside of Water Street in Augusta. Waters rose to more than 30 feet and reached a flow of 144,000 cubic feet per second in parts of the river between Augusta and Waterville, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. File photo courtesy of Dave Dostie

AUGUSTA — A project to raise the level of the now oft-flooded riverfront Front Street parking lot will get funding aid from a recently-passed federal spending plan.

The federal funding is also expected to support changes intended to help encourage downtown economic development overlooking the Kennebec River.

The nearly $4 million in federal funding was supported by all three of the lawmakers who represent Augusta in Congress — U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd District, and U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine.

Design work on the riverfront proposal is expected to start this summer, after city officials seek public input and ideas that could be incorporated into the plan. Construction is then likely a year or more away.

The current plan is to raise the level of the city-owned Front Street parking lot a few feet, up to roughly the same height as a retaining wall now at the back of the parking lot. Officials hope that will decrease the frequency of flooding there.

It would also move the right of way for Front Street out away from buildings. The street generally runs along the back of the parking lot, right up against a row of downtown buildings between Front and Water streets.


The goal of that change is to free up that space so retail businesses could open there, from the basement levels of the buildings, looking out across the parking lot at the Kennebec River.

“The hope is that it’d give some opportunities for the businesses to use that space for themselves, in what is now Front Street,” said Matt Nazar, development director for the city.

Floodwater from the Kennebec River laps in April 2020 at dumpsters behind the Vickery Building at the Front Street parking lot in Augusta. New federal funding will allow the city to raise the height of the parking lot by 2 feet to ward against flooding. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Underground utilities will remain, so businesses could not construct buildings in the area that is now the Front Street right of way but could have outdoor space. Options could include kayaks for rent or picnic tables that Cushnoc Brewing has seasonally had outside its basement-level Meet Me Out Back tasting room, below its main restaurant on Water Street.

The project would also add an observation deck to a now-vacant, city-owned lot on the river side of Water Street, extending toward Front Street. Pedestrians would access it from Water Street, taking in views of Fort Western across the Kennebec River.

Nazar said the deck could also serve as a site for performing arts, Augusta Downtown Alliance programming, and other special events.

“Images and footage of the flooding on Front Street last December may have stunned Mainers across the state, but the Augusta community has known that updates are needed to protect residents and businesses from damage associated with more frequent, more extreme flooding,” Golden said in a news release. “I’m proud to have partnered with the city to identify the infrastructure most at risk from flooding and deliver the funding needed to increase resiliency.”


The proposed project would not bury utility lines in the area.

Keith Luke, economic development director for the city, said Augusta has recently seen first-hand the impacts of climate change, with more frequent storms and damaging flooding along the river.

“The Front Street resiliency project aims to mitigate these effects by raising the Front Street parking area by 2 feet, which will significantly reduce the frequency of floodwaters necessitating the closure of the parking area, impacting local businesses and residents less often,” Luke said.

Collins, vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a release the funding was part of $14.4 million in congressionally directed spending for requests to support coastal resiliency projects in the fiscal year 2024 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill. That was included in legislation passed in the Senate on March 8 and since signed by President Joe Biden.

The federal funding does not require a match in local spending, though Nazar said the final cost of the project won’t be determined until the design is finalized, and could come in higher than would be covered by the federal money.

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