SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Town officials are concerned that town costs for a planned sidewalk project will continue to rise before work even begins. The project is being partially funded by grants from the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT).
Town Manager Justin VanDongen told members of the board of selectmen at their Jan. 22 meeting that he could not find any records of a town meeting vote to fund the project.
Don Lagrange, the town’s former manager, announced in March 2017 that the town had been awarded $498,500 in grant funds from MDOT for upgrades to a sidewalk in a 1,500-foot section of Main Street. At that time, the project was estimated at $842,000, which would have meant a $343,500 matching commitment from the town.
The project, which includes a five-foot-wide sidewalk and a five-foot-wide shoulder on the west side of the street, is meant to go from Apple Lane to Village at Ocean’s End. It also included two more feet for drainage between the sidewalk and abutting properties and would involve replacing water and sewer pipes.
“It’s supposed to go out to bid for this construction season.” VanDongen told selectmen during a conversation about the budget for fiscal year 2020.
He also explained the estimated cost for the project, originally quoted as $842,000, has grown to about $1.325 million. At that amount, VanDongen expects the town will need to fund its portion, $840,000, with a bond issue in order to complete the project.
“I haven’t seen a project yet that an engineer’s done that hasn’t increased,” Chairman Chad Terry said about the update. “We’re going to end up spending a million dollars for a sidewalk.”
Selectmen questioned whether any parts of the project have been started. VanDongen told them the MDOT had installed new utility poles farther back from the road along the stretch of Main Street where the sidewalk will eventually be installed.
During the discussion, VanDongen asked selectmen if they wanted him to include a request for $150,000 on the warrant for town meeting for the sidewalk project.
“Yes, we need a placeholder in for this project,” Selectman Ryan Donahue said. “I think we need more information.
“I want some real information about what we’re asking the taxpayers to pay for,” he continued. “We need to put it on a warrant item to get a resolution on how we’re moving forward.”
Terry expressed doubt that the project is going to happen since it has been two years since it was first announced. At the time, selectmen agreed to move forward with the project to improve what they said was one of the most dangerous areas for pedestrians and bicyclists to travel along Main Street.
“The original town cost was going to be about $498,000 as an equal match,” said VanDongen. “Everything they’ve [MDOT] done has kind of gone against the town.”