ROCKPORT — The bridge over Goose River, in Rockport Village, is getting scruffier around the edges, and the ban on Garden Club flower planters there has made the bridge’s blemishes even more apparent. But the Maine Department of Transportation said in late July that a rebuild of the Goose River Bridge is due in five years; in the meantime, the DOT plans is to talk with the Garden Club about cultivating flower beds near the sides of the 68-year-old concrete and steel bridge.
Earlier this month, the Rockport Garden Club told the community that it could no longer hang its flower boxes, often filled with petunias, on the rails of the bridge. That was per order of the DOT, and the Town of Rockport in March. Acccording to DOT spokesman Ted Talbot, the policy holds for anything not approved by the state.
“It’s unfortunate, because we’d love to accommodate,” he said, in a July 20 phone conversation.
A 2016 memo from the DOT’s legal counsel made its way to Rockport earlier this year. Entitled “Impermissable Attachments of State Bridges,” it is the policy document the DOT is using to prohibit items affixed to its property.
While flower boxes were not mentioned in the memo (see attached PDF), it did reference fishing nets.
“Each spring, a number of bridges owned and under the jurisdiction of the Maine Dept. of Transportation are used for elver fishermen’s nets,” the memo said. “They are affixed to the bridges by ropes, clamps, and wires, and left dangling in waters underneath the span.”
The memo, authored by Toni Kemmerle, DOT Chief Counsel, noted that state bridge maintenance staff got concerned about damage from the elver riggings to the bridges and hazards to boaters; consequently, the DOT produced a memo banning such fixtures because the transportation agency is charged with establishing “an interlocking system of state and state highways” that are safe and efficient.”
Talbot said the DOT had initially planned to paint the Goose River Bridge last summer and asked the town to clear the bridge of any fixtures. But then, the DOT looked more closely at the bridge and decided it needed rebuilding.
“We let it [the repainting] go because we talked about replacing the bridge in a year or three years,” he said.
That rebuild date, however, has been pushed forward to five years.
Talbot said the issue of the flower boxes is, in part, related to safety.
“People are walking below it,” he said, citing a footbridge that also spans the Goose River, approximately 30 feet from the taller vehicular bridge.
He said that the DOT has reached a point, “where we have to stick to policy across the board.”
Hence, no Rockport Garden Club flower boxes on the bridge, although the hoses still remain there, looping along the rails.
But the DOT said July 20 that it would reach out to the town and the Rockport Garden Club, and investigate together possibilities of creating garden beds near the bridge.
And, Talbot said, citizens are welcome to discuss the idea of including permanent flower boxes on the new bridge when the DOT approaches the design phase. That won’t be for several years, however, as the engineering phase must first get underway.
The Goose River Bridge is integral to the history of Camden and Rockport; in fact, the two towns were once one, but the “bridge question” first articulated in 1855, was one of the seeds that lead to the eventual separation of Camden and Rockport in 1891. The bridge debate started at town meeting when citizens debated spending $3,000 or $1,000 on a bridge to span the Goose River.
In 1921, a metal bridge was built over the Goose River but that was destroyed in 1946 when a truck driver took out one of the bridge posts. The structure collapsed and the Bangor man died in the accident.
A temporary bridge went up, and then the existing bridge was built in the early 1950s.
Some sixty eight years later, and the concrete and steel bridge is now ready for replacement.
But the Rockport Garden Club is not motionless on its mission to keep the town spruced up.
At a July 23 meeting of the Select Board and the non-voting residents of Rockport, Lee Anne Dunton mentioned that the club would like to put up poles near the bridge from which to hang flowers.
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