MOUNT DESERT — A compromise might be near on the contentious question of burying utility lines as part of the redevelopment of Main Street in Northeast Harbor.
Public Works Director Tony Smith has evaluated three possible alternatives to burying the utilities on both sides of the street. He indicated to the Board of Selectmen Monday night that he favors the option that calls for leaving the overhead wires on the east side of Main Street and burying the wires on the west side, where most of the businesses are.
That is the option Smith would recommend, “based on what I know now,” he told the Islander on Tuesday.
He said in a memo to the selectmen that this option occurred to him when he was walking to his car following a recent board meeting.
“I was parked at the north end of Main Street and looked south along it,” he said. “All you could really see were the overhead wires [crossing over the street] providing service to the buildings on the west side of the street. You could not really see the primary wires that are parallel to Main Street until you actually look for them.”
Smith has estimated that the option he favors would reduce the $3.9 million Main Street project by about $1 million.
One of the other options, which was considered earlier in the process, would have the buildings on the west side of Main Street serviced by lines strung from poles on Tracy Road. Another alternative, which is similar to the one Smith recommends, would have utility lines buried on the east side of the street between Carter’s Real Estate and Shaw Jewelry.
Each of those two options would be expected to save between $800,000 and $900,000. But Smith emphasized that all three cost saving estimates are based on “concept design sketches only.”
He told the selectmen Monday night that he thinks they should be able to make a final decision on the project at their next meeting, Oct. 15.
That is the date the project was to have started, but it was delayed following the Sept. 20 special town meeting at which a large majority of residents voted to have the selectmen reconsider the project.
The original plan for improving Main Street, which voters approved at the May 8 regular town meeting, specified that the project would include “burying the overhead utility wires.”
But some Main Street business owners and others strongly objected to that, citing the expense and the amount of disruption and loss of business they said it would cause. They circulated a petition calling for reconsideration, which prompted last month’s special town meeting.
Selectman Martha Dudman asked Smith Monday night how the plan he now favors compares to the original plan in terms of the amount of disruption it would cause.
“If the original plan was a 10, this would be in my opinion a three or four, primarily because of [not burying all of] the wires,” he said.
The Mount Desert Water District, a private company independent of the town, has been planning to replace the water main beneath Main Street while it was dug up for the rest of the project, even though that replacement was not previously among the water district’s near-term priorities.
Asked Monday if the water main was still going to be replaced, Smith said he hoped to meet with Paul Slack, the water district’s general manager, later this week to discuss that question. He said the cost of replacing the water main in conjunction with the town’s Main Street project would be $352,000.
If the selectmen make a final decision on the project at their Oct. 15 meeting, Smith would need to apply for and obtain a conditional use permit from the Planning Board, a process that likely would take about three weeks, and negotiate a revised price with the general contractor, R.F. Jordan & Sons. Then the contractor would need time to order materials and schedule the work.
Smith indicated that work likely would begin sometime in December or possibly in late November, depending on the weather. Regardless of when it starts, work would stop for the summer season on May 24.
The original schedule called for work to resume next Oct. 15 and to be finished by Dec. 6. Smith said the delay in starting this fall probably would mean the project wouldn’t be completed until the spring of 2020.
Smith wrote his memo to selectmen in which he outlined the utility line options following a Sept. 27 meeting attended by 15-20 people with an interest in the project. He told the selectmen Monday that the meeting was “very positive.”
“I think we’re winnowing things down and heading to a compromise, which I think will be a good one,” he said.
Selectman Matt Hart, who was among those attending the Sept. 27 meeting, agreed.
“Even though there were no decisions made, it felt like there was a lot of progress,” he said.
Asked if the town would need to re-bid the Main Street project, given the change in scope and the estimated $1 million price reduction, Smith said he didn’t think so.
“The only thing that’s changed is the wires,” he said.
The project also includes building a sidewalk on the east side of the street, widening the sidewalk on the west side, repaving the street, improving drainage and re-engineering the intersection at the north end of the street.
Possible changes at the south end of the street are still under review.