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Council mulls options for River Road repairs

CARIBOU, Maine — City officials are still looking for funding options to help repair the River Road after rain and runoff this spring caused an estimated $2 million in damage to a quarter mile section of it.

Aroostook EMA Director Darren Woods said Tuesday that the current damage estimate was provided by Soderberg Construction in Caribou, “just so we could have a starting number.”

On Monday, the City Council agreed unanimously to hire Dubois and King Inc. as consulting engineers to obtain a better assessment of the damage to the road. The amount to be paid to the engineering firm is “not to exceed $59,482,” according to Caribou City Manager Dennis Marker.

Marker said the engineers would be paid with funding from the city’s capital expense budget that initially had been set aside to reconstruct High Street, which the Maine Department of Transportation indicated earlier would not happen until the next budget year.

The engineering work will only involve determining the specific cause of the River Road issues along with the best options for repair.

“They will do investigations and survey work,” Marker said Monday before the councilors unanimously approved the contract, “and analyze what’s happening. The scope of their work does not include any construction. They are just doing an investigation and giving us three of the best options to address the best solution.”

While the outward appearance of the road has not significantly changed in the past couple months, Woods said Tuesday there could be other underlying, or unseen, issues still eroding the stability of the road.

Rain and runoff in late April undermined the soil under the road located next to the Aroostook River, causing sections of the pavement to split and break apart. City officials closed off the damaged section to traffic, except to the four residences within the area, leaving the homeowners with little to no access to mail, heating oil, or trash removal.

City councilors agreed in May to pay residents up to $1,000 a month if they needed to relocate to an apartment while officials determine the best course of action moving forward. Then in June, the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied city and county officials’ request for disaster relief assistance.

During his update to the Council on July 9, Marker said that Caribou could apply through the Northern Maine Development Commission for a 50/50 matching grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. The town manager said funding might be available if local officials could show that fixing the road would create and retain jobs in the area.

Caribou would need to create an application as soon as possible in order to receive EDA funding next year, he said. Marker added, however, that the outlook is “not optimistic” if the grant is awarded on the basis of job creation and retention, as the work would only last until the road is fixed.

He said the city might also be eligible for a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in addition to a low interest loan at five percent interest for 30 years.

“We’re not getting big bucks from anyone,” said Caribou Mayor David Martin. “That’s what we’re looking at?”

Marker said it may be possible to obtain sizable funding from the USDA, but “it would be a loan.”

“I don’t see why we can’t move forward,” said Martin. “The last thing you said to the River Road people is that we don’t want to jeopardize the funding by doing something too soon. Well, it doesn’t look like we’d be jeopardizing a whole lot. Is the National Guard a possibility?”

“I know that’s been brought up,” Marker said, “and they are looking for training opportunities,” adding that he will explore the possibility further in future discussions with the organization.

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