Last ditch effort seeks to save Causeway stones on historic grounds

POSTCARD PERFECT — This circa 1950s postcard of the Moose Pond Causeway shows off the granite stones in all their picturesque glory. (Geraghty Photo)

POSTCARD PERFECT — This circa 1950s postcard of the Moose Pond Causeway shows off the granite stones in all their picturesque glory.

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Bridgton Selectmen on Tuesday agreed to back a last-ditch effort on grounds of historic preservation to save the granite blocks lining the Moose Pond Causeway on Route 302.

The board said it hadn’t previously considered using such an argument to persuade the Maine Department of Transportation not to replace the stones with a guardrail as part of a highway project set to begin this year. They spoke of the granite blocks’ scenic value and demonstrated safety record when they wrote to MDOT officials earlier this year to try to get them to change their minds.

The state declined to make an exception on its standard policy to use guardrails where needed when upgrading its highways. They did agree to use a brown powder coated guardrail, similar to what’s used in Acadia National Park and on other scenic highways.

DR. BRUCE CLARY urged Bridgton Selectmen Tuesday to fight removal of the granite blocks on the Moose Pond Causeway on grounds of historic preservation.  (Geraghty Photo)

DR. BRUCE CLARY urged Bridgton Selectmen Tuesday to fight removal of the granite blocks on the Moose Pond Causeway on grounds of historic preservation. (Geraghty Photo)

But, on Tuesday, Dr. Bruce Clary of Knights Hill Road outlined research he’s done that’s convinced him the historical status of the Causeway can be proven, and as yet has not been adequately reviewed by state and federal agencies under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

“Everybody views those blocks as integral to what that Causeway means to Bridgton,” said Clary. “It is part of the vista. If so many people are upset about it, could not the reason be historic?”

Clary presented the board with a copied passage from the History of Bridgton (Shorey, ed., 1968) that details the building of the Causeway after the state awarded the highway reconstruction contract to the Rossi Construction Company:

“On July 9, 1953, the new bridge was opened and the next day boatmen began learning the new channel past the rocky shores of the (Sabatis) Island. Work on the shoulders and entering roads continued into late fall. Old railings were superseded by granite posts, 2 feet wide and 4 feet long, set in the ground at intervals of 8 feet, 481 of them from the Redstone Quarry in New Hampshire.”

Clary got in touch in May with Kirk Mohney of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, who stated that based on the history of the Causeway, “The Commission believes that the entire structure may be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places for its transportation and engineering significance.”

MDOT had been asked, at the very least, to leave the stone blocks in place behind the guardrail. But engineers said that wouldn’t be feasible. The stones would need to be placed four feet behind the face of the guardrail, and doing so would eliminate the existing wide shoulders that are used as a scenic pullover for drivers, MDOT said.

In response to the strong local objections over removal of the stones, MDOT’s regional office tried to get a design exception from the engineering council to leave the stones in place. “However, the council sees the stones as deadly fixed objects’ thus, they will either be removed or pushed back so that they meet the four feet from guardrail standard,” said MDOT’s Megan Hopkin in a May letter to Mohney.

In response to Mohney’s involvement, the Maine division of the Federal Highway Administration determined that the Causeway is eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places under Criteria A, “for its association with transportation with a period of significance of 1953, the year the guardrail was installed.” The FAA said there would be an adverse impact if the stones are removed, and invited the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C. to weigh in on the controversy. But the Council declined, saying the project did not meet their criteria for involvement.

Clary said it’s now up to the town to formally challenge the adequacy of the historic review. He said MDOT’s historical assessment was “done in a cursory manner,” with the blocks referred to as “deadly fixed objects” despite a lack of accident data to support that conclusion.

Selectman Chairman Bernie King agreed the Causeway has had a safe track record. The only accident he said he could recall involved a tractor trailer in the late 1970s, and the granite blocks actually prevented the truck from entering the water. Anecdotal evidence from a local towing company suggests there have been only five accidents on the Causeway in 40 years.

Clary said the state hasn’t considered other safety measures along the Causeway that could allow the blocks to stay in place, such as vehicle-activated signs or speed humps. “The argument would be that key procedural requirements of Section 800.3, Initiation of the Section 106 Process, have not been met.”

The town also has the option of filing an appeal under the dispute resolution section, even after the project has begun, he said. He encouraged the 200-members of the Moose Pond Association to become formally involved as well.

Selectman Paul Hoyt suggested that Town Manager Bob Peabody consult with the town attorney in getting the town’s concerns on record.

“If we have any possibility at all, I would like to go forward,” Hoyt said. In accepting MDOT’s decision to remove the granite blocks, he said, “We said okay without questioning, without researching it as you did.”

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