At $475K, it’s not your average culvert project 

MOUNT DESERT — It will cost as much as $475,000 to replace two old and inadequate culverts that carry the waters of Denning Brook under Beech Hill Cross Road. 

Public Works Director Tony Smith has described the existing culverts as “woefully undersized and in very poor condition.” 

“These conditions contribute to flooding, roadway sinkholes and roadway washouts. The existing culverts also negatively impact the passage of animal life through them.” 

The town received a $125,000 grant from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) last year to help pay for the culvert replacements. That is the most the DEP awards for “municipal stream crossing upgrades.” That amount includes $10,000 that Mount Desert has already spent as part of the $35,000 cost of project design, permitting and bidding services. 

Smith and civil engineering consulting firm VHB of South Portland prepared design and bid documents for the Denning Brook project and provided them to six qualified contractors in January. None of the six submitted a bid. 

Smith then contacted R.F. Jordon & Sons Construction of Ellsworth, which is currently the general contractor for the Main Street improvement project in Northeast Harbor. 

“We discussed pricing with them and came to terms on a negotiated price of $418,913, compared to the engineers’ estimate of $380,000, a difference of 10 percent,” Smith said in a memo to Town Manager Durlin Lunt. “Of late, VHB is seeing bid pricing 20-30 percent higher than their and other firms’ estimates.” 

Smith said the DEP is seeing similar cost increases with other projects around the state. 

The Denning Brook project will follow the guidelines of the state’s Stream Smart program, which promotes the construction of culverts that maintain fish and wildlife habitat while protecting roads and public safety. 

“The DEP told me that the price we negotiated with R.F. Jordan for lack of receiving any bids is acceptable under their program guidelines,” Smith said. 

VHB will charge the town $43,500 for construction contract administration and inspection services, and Smith has added $12,000 to the budget to cover contingencies. That brings the total cost to $474,913. 

The Select Board voted unanimously in late February to authorize Smith to sign contracts with R.F. Jordan and VHB for the agreed-upon prices contingent upon voter approval at the May 3 annual town meeting. 

“Four hundred thousand for a culvert seems insane to me,” said Select Board member Geoff Wood, who asked how he could explain the cost to people who ask. The short answer: This is a very big project. 

Smith said one of the new culverts under Beech Hill Cross Road will be a concrete box culvert that is 6 feet high and 15 feet wide. 

“And we have to mimic the streambed inside that box culvert,” he said. “There’s a way that you determine the size of the stones so that bugs and invertebrates can rest on the way through.” 

The other culvert to be replaced, which Smith said is rotting, is 4 feet high and 5 feet wide. 


Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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