Saving the brook trout in Buckfield

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BUCKFIELD — At their upcoming meeting, selectmen are expected to send a funding request for the Shed Hollow Road Bridge replacement project to town meeting which, once fixed, will improve the road and open access to a large trout habitat.

The Buckfield Board of Selectmen are scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19, at the Buckfield Municipal Center at 34 Turner St. They will discuss a draft resolution for the funding request to send to June 2018 annual town meeting. The project is estimated to cost $190,000 and the town has already secured a $95,000 grant while Jeff Stern of the Androscoggin River Watershed Council applies for a second grant.

At their last meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 5, selectmen heard from Stern about the project, which is to replace a culvert bridge on Shed Hollow Road that spans Darnit Brook. He covered the purpose of the project, the grants and funding for it and the timeline.

“This whole thing is really about brook trout. We’ve discovered … brook trout are a real draw to Maine because actually the Eastern brook trout that once used to range all the way south of Georgia, believe it or not, along the Appalachian Mountains, has much been exterminated in this range except for northern New England,” he said, noting the fishes’ largest remaining habitats are in Maine and northern New Hampshire.

“Brook trout number one draw people here who spend money on fishing and things and support our local economies,” Stern said. “And number two, brook trout are pretty finicky. They do not tolerate pollution very well, so where you do find them, it means you’ve got a pretty good quality, intact ecosystem. So it’s a good sign.”

He added he took representatives from the state Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Game to see the habitat.

“Everybody looks at it and they go, ‘Wow, this is a really nice trout stream,’” Stern said.

A couple summers of ago, Stern and others did barrier assessments for fish and other aquatic life in the Nezinscot River watershed. They found a number of barriers, including the one on Shedd Hollow Road crossing Darnit Brook.

“I was at that site personally and it’s kind of a mess,” he said. “The culvert itself is a big old … pipe arch culvert. It is all rusted on the bottom. Actually water drops out of the culvert and flows beneath it. … Obviously fish cannot negotiate that.”

In the grant application to the Department of Environmental Protection, then-Town Manager Cindy Dunn noted she has seen dead fish in the culvert during site visits.

In addition to dead fish, the road has deteriorated.

“The banks, the shoulder [are] collapsing. It is a safety hazard for drivers, plus apparently the town goes in and has to repatch the road repeatedly like every year or something like that. It is just a mess and I’m sure it’s a drain on the town’s budget as well,” Stern said.

Interim Town Manager Brad Plante said keeping the road open and passable is important.

“Last thing we want is for the DOT to close the road,” he said, noting that hasn’t happened yet and this project is part of the town’s road plan.

Stern spoke out grants for the project – one which the town has received and another he’s applying for – to help offset the projected cost of $190,000.

In January, Dunn, Stern and Ferg Lea, also of the Watershed Council, applied for a $95,000 grant for the stream-crossing project from the state Department of Environmental Protection. In April, they got word Buckfield would receive the funds.

“The plan is to replace that culvert … with a bridge that has an adequate … natural steam bottom and is wide enough that it passes 100-year-flow and all of that kind of engineering stuff,” Stern said. “It will be good for fish passage because it gets rid of the barrier that is there now to the fish and other aquatic critters.

“Fish and the other stuff will be able to get up stream to this whole network of headwaters streams of Darnit Brook,” he continued. “It opens up a huge habitat, close to 8 miles worth. I think that’s really what appealed to the Maine DEP and why the town got the grant was that it opens up so much habitat.”

The second grant Stern will apply for is from Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture and the deadline is Friday, Sept. 22. If the town is awarded the grant, then Buckfield would have to pay roughly $57,000 for the project, he said, adding there are other grant sources he could explore.

“Hopefully we can whittle down the cost for you,” he said.

Stern should know by December or January 2018 whether or not the town will receive the second grant.

“What our goal is … by the town meeting rolls around for 2018 is to have all the permitting done, to have the money lined up, to have the engineering done enough so you guys can put it out to bid,” Stern told Plante.

At town meeting, residents will vote on funding the project. If they approve it, then construction would happen in late August or early September 2018. Stern noted the DEP grant has a two-year deadline for construction to get underway.

Before their Sept. 19 meeting, Plante and Dunn will have cleaned up the draft resolution for selectmen and information about the costs and debt of the Frank Brown Bridge project will be shared, as requested by Vice Chair Cheryl Coffman. She added she will make a site visit to the Shed Hollow Road Bridge.

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