Bay of Naples Bridge

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer

NAPLES – Small business owner Fran Keen would like to put up a fence to replace the buffer that disappeared when a micro-burst tore up the grove of trees on her parcel two years ago. But, she’ll have to wait to make that improvement.

It’s not finances that are holding back the plans she has for her BayView Cabins property on Brandy Pond.

Instead, her plans hinge on the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) construction time-line for finishing the Bay of Naples Bridge and associated road work along the Causeway. Keen said she doesn’t know if erecting a fence will be feasible when road construction wraps up on Route 302 in front of her lodging. Or will she have to bide her time until the new bridge is ready for traffic sometime in 2012?

This week, crews in bright orange vests and heavy equipment have become as much a part of the landscape in Naples as the autumn leaves and earlier sunsets in the western sky.

As the staging of road-construction equipment occurs, there have been some traffic delays on both sides of the bridge. Some of those delays were compounded by Columbus Day weekend traffic.

For now, navigating around the construction is just a minor inconvenience for those entrepreneurs who maintain year-round businesses along the Causeway. Some business owners are worried how it’ll impact their customers. Others have a shrug and see-what-happens attitude.

Still, confusion over bridge construction has been swirling around the community. Many passers-by have asked if the fixed bridge is being built now, but most of the business owners immediately south of the Naples Bridge (where the initial construction phase is taking place) know there will be another summer for boats to travel between Brandy Pond and Long Lake via the current swing bridge.

According to Jim Wentworth, the project engineer for the Bay of Naples Bridge – the official name MDOT has given the proposed bridge — the construction activity taking place since Columbus Day is road work that will include laying an underground water pipe. The Gorham-based company, Grondin & Sons, will be doing that road and ditch work.

Also, another crew will be working on the banks of the Chute River that runs between the two bodies of water. They will be starting construction on “a sea wall” to protect the area from erosion — occurring naturally and from the wakes of motorized boat traffic, Wentworth said.

But, just because crews are present there doesn’t mean the bridge is going in just yet, he said.

In fact, the construction of the proposed archway-type bridge won’t start until the 2011 boating season winds down, Wentworth said. He added that time-frame is probably right after the Labor Day weekend in early September 2011. Likely, the existing bridge will be dismantled in the spring of 2012 after the new one opens to traffic.

Dawn Allen, co-owner of Causeway Marina, said she’s fielded quite a few questions about when the new bridge will be built from her customers who rent seasonal slip spaces. She said she thought the message was pretty clear at the MDOT meetings with the town: The swing bridge will be open for the summer of 2011, and the fixed bridge will be in place the following summer in 2012.

She said with the exception of the Songo River Queen II and a few luxury boats whose owners she knew, many of the boats will be able to pass under the 12-foot archway. About 60 percent of the boaters who rent space at the Causeway Marina are from Maine; and the other 40 percent hail from Massachusetts. Most of those boaters have been following the Naples Bridge issue since it began two years ago, she said, adding the people from out of state have been spending summers in the Lake Region for decades.

While construction equipment was rolling into place on Route 302, Dan Allen was busy this weekend pulling boats out of Brandy Pond for the season, removing sections of his dock from the water and stacking them on land with his John Deere forklift.

He aims to have the Causeway Marina ready for winter before October is over; and he did not have any concerns about construction traffic conflicting with his plans.

Allen also owns the land adjacent to his marina.  He leases the property to Steve Kirk, who owns and manages Tiki Bar & Grill, which has been in operation for about three years.  So, as the property owner, Allen has received correspondence from MDOT. He said the Tiki Bar will not lose the number of parking spaces it currently has, but “the parking will be reconfigured.”

Kirk said MDOT had not communicated with him about parking space – although he has tried to get that information from the state. He was worried about losing parking spaces at his establishment after everything is said and done.

He said he doesn’t know how customers will drive into the parking lot when the road is torn up. He said nobody has talked to him about placing boards over holes in the ground so vehicles can maneuver to and from his business. He didn’t know if MDOT would supply signage, telling customers where to pull in.

He hopes the impending construction won’t put a damper on Halloween weekend festivities at the Tiki Bar.

As Kirk was standing in his bar on Monday – having just arrived and unlocked the door to his business — a Grondin employee popped in and purchased some bottled water.

Keen said she knew the equipment staging was taking place; and she gave MDOT permission to use her parking lot for their heavy machinery. Also, she extended an offer for workers to come in and get coffee in the mornings.

She said members of a wedding party would be staying for about a week at BayView Cabins, and she was willing to work around any inconveniences. She has been recommending her guests take a fall foliage cruise around Long Lake on the Songo River Queen, which is still operating on the weekends through the rest of the month.

“We’ll make the best of it,” Keen said.

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