MOUNT DESERT — A revised plan for the redevelopment of Main Street in Northeast Harbor, which calls for burying the utility wires on the west side of the street and stringing them on new poles on the east side, was approved unanimously by the board of selectmen Monday night.
The new plan is a compromise between the original one, which called for utilities on both sides of the street would have been buried, and the view expressed by many residents that burying the utilities would be too expensive and too disruptive to Main Street businesses.
The revised Main Street plan also calls for replacing the “island park” at the intersection at the south end of the street with a redesigned park “in the same general location and with improved safety features made to the traffic flow,” according to Public Works Director Tony Smith.
The original plan called for eliminating the island park and extending the northeast corner of Main Street and Kimball Road into the intersection to create a small “neighborhood park.” But a number of people pointed out that this would have made it difficult if not impossible for many larger vehicles to make the turn.
Voters at the May 8 annual town meeting authorized the town to borrow up to $3.96 million for the project to improve “the appearance, functionality and vitality of the Main Street area.”
That warrant article stated that the street improvements were to be “in general conformance” with the recommendations in a report prepared by the town’s design and engineering consultants. Those recommended improvements included “burying the overhead utility wires.”
At a special town meeting Sept. 10, prompted by a citizens’ petition, residents voted overwhelmingly to have the selectmen reconsider the Main Street project, specifically the plan to bury the utility wires. But given the warrant article that voters approved May 8, it was unclear whether the revised plan, to bury the wires on only one side of the street, would pass legal muster.
Town Attorney Andy Hamilton told the selectmen Monday night that, in his opinion, it would.
“I find that it does generally conform to the original consultants’ plan …” he said.
Hamilton praised Smith for working with the utility companies, downtown business owners and others to come up with the revised Main Street plan.
“I want to express my appreciation for the work that I’ve seen the public works director do to try to understand what could work as a matter of civil engineering, as a matter of aesthetics, as a matter of the culture of the community,” he said.
Town Manager Durlin Lunt also lauded Smith for the way he handled the “very difficult task” of balancing the desires of voters expressed at the two town meetings. He recommended that the selectmen approve Smith’s revised plan.
Smith has estimated that the changes will trim about $1 million off the cost of the project. But he said he wouldn’t have a final figure until the project plans are redrawn and he has met with the general contractor, R.F. Jordan & Sons, to negotiate a new contract.
Hamilton told the selectmen that the “final form” of the contract, including design specifications and cost, should come back to them for approval.
Smith told the Islander that, even though the utility wires on the west side of Main Street are still going to be buried, the new plan will cause much less disruption than the original plan. He said that is because the primary wires were to have been placed in conduits and then encased in concrete.
“Burying the primary wires as originally designed along the west side near the sidewalk would have required digging a trench in a step-wise fashion, much like a sewer or storm drain project, along all of Main Street,” Smith said. “There then would have been underground services constructed in the street from the west side to the east side.”
He said the new plan provides for utility services to be provided overhead to the buildings on the east side and underground to those on the west side.
“Each underground service trench dug across Main Street from east to west can include conduit and wire to service more than just one building,” he said. “This greatly reduces the number of cross trenches being dug in the street… [and] involves considerably less excavation on the west side of Main Street.”
The project also includes building a sidewalk on the east side of the street, widening the sidewalk on the west side and enlarging the town-owned parking lot at the north end of the street.
The project was originally scheduled to start Oct. 15. Now, Smith said, it likely will be January before any work can be done. He said it probably would take that long to revise the design, complete new drawings, negotiate a revised contract and then for the contractor to order and receive materials.
“This also depends on weather and [power company] Emera’s timeliness in working with us,” Smith said.
Work is to stop for the summer visitor season on May 24 and resume next October. The original schedule called for the project to be finished by Dec. 6 next year. But because of the delay, Smith said it would continue into the spring of 2020.