Main Street in Northeast Harbor. Some merchants in the village are concerned about disruption from a planned renovation of Main Street. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Merchants voice street work fears

MOUNT DESERT — Some Northeast Harbor merchants are worried that the two-year Main Street redevelopment project that is set to start in October will keep customers away, and several of them expressed their concerns to the Board of Selectmen Monday night.

Among them were Tom and Kelly Brown, owners of F.T. Brown Hardware.

“How are businesses on Main Street, especially year-round, going to survive two years of construction?” Kelly Brown asked.

She noted that the efforts of Rising Tide Partners and Mount Desert 365 have begun to generate some momentum in reversing the decline of the downtown business scene.

“I’m afraid of that momentum coming to an abrupt stop because people are creatures of habit; they will bypass construction zones,” she said. “The idea [behind the Main Street project] was to revitalize businesses, but I think this is actually going to cause quite a big issue for a lot of us.”

Tom Brown said the town is “rolling the dice” with the Main Street project.

“I think you’re asking a lot of us to just, in good faith, think this is actually going to help us,” he told the selectmen.

The Main Street project includes redesigning the intersections at each end of the street, building a sidewalk on the east side of the street, widening the sidewalk on the west side, burying utility lines beneath the street and putting in new street lights and plantings.

Voters at town meeting in May authorized the town to borrow up to $3.96 million for the project. The town subsequently awarded the construction contract to R.F. Jordan & Sons for $2.19 million. It will cost an additional $975,000 to have the electric, telephone and cable wires buried. Construction administration and inspection costs are estimated at $320,000.

Northeast Harbor resident Alan Jacobs said burying the utility lines would be unnecessarily costly and disruptive. Instead, he said, power lines could be run from Tracy Road, which runs behind the buildings on the west side of Main Street.

“By bringing it in from behind … you don’t have to blow up Main Street,” he said. “I don’t think having Baghdad next year on Main Street is going to be a very good idea.”

The plan as it now stands calls for the Mount Desert Water District to replace the water main beneath Main Street at the same time the power lines are being buried. But Jacobs, who is a member of the Water District board, said the Water District hadn’t been planning to replace that main anytime soon.

“If we don’t bury the power, do we have to do the water line?” he said. “No, not really.”

Several other residents and business owners questioned the need to bury the utility lines.

Public Works Director Tony Smith said he would ask CES, the engineering firm that will oversee the project for the town, to ask power company Emera Maine about the feasibility of bringing power lines to Main Street from Tracy Road.

Kelly Brown said she understands the idea of wanting to improve Main Street to make it more attractive to new businesses.

“But what about the harm to businesses that are already here?” she asked.

“We’re not saying we don’t want to beautify. We’re not saying we don’t want to see growth. But at what rate and at what time?”

Brown, a former member of the downtown revitalization committee, said the group’s original idea was “to create something for 2025.”

“And all of a sudden things moved exceptionally fast, and I don’t know why.”

Stephanie Reece, who with her husband, Mark, owns the Colonel’s Restaurant and Bakery on Main Street, also objected to the timing of the project. She said she and her husband are working toward keeping their business open all year.

“We’re slowly making our way toward that, and it’s just going to set all of us back from trying to become a more year-round community,” she said.

Selectman Martha Dudman expressed surprise that some business owners feel the project planning process moved too fast.

“I feel like it’s taken forever to get anything going,” she said. “We’ve been talking about revitalizing Northeast Harbor … for the last 10 years. To me, it’s been a very slow, thoughtful process.

“There’s never going to be a perfect time,” she added.

Selectman Matt Hart acknowledged that the project will cause some disruption. “But it’s important that we also realize that there is an opportunity here, as well,” he said.

The selectmen’s meeting on Monday wasn’t the first time town officials have heard from merchants and others with concerns about the Main Street project.

Smith, the public works director, said in a June 14 memo to Town Manager Durlin Lunt that questions had been raised concerning “work schedules relative to specific locations along Main Street, power outages, potable water service interruptions, traffic flow, access to buildings and other facets of the construction process.

“A key question was how the town will make it known that, even though we will have construction on Main Street from mid-October to just before Memorial Day over the next two years, the merchants in town are still open for business,” Smith said.

He and Travis Noyes of CES have proposed adding to the town’s website a link to a section dedicated to the Main Street project.

“Of particular interest to us was building a Q&A section into the site,” Smith told Lunt. “Depending on the question, CES, as the overall project manager, could answer the question themselves or contact one of the other team members [such as the general contractor] to obtain the answer.”

He said the goal will be to have questions answered within 48 hours.


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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