Following the discovery of an undocumented eagle’s nest along the previously approved proposed Wiscasset Bypass corridor, the US Army Corp of Engineers (ACOE) has informed the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) that the proposed route is no longer acceptable, and MaineDOT has been asked to resubmit documents supporting earlier alternatives towards the goal of establishing a new route for the Wiscasset Bypass.
This past May, the ACOE had issued its determination of a Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative (LEDPA), allowing MaineDOT to move forward in the decades-long effort to relieve congestion around Wiscasset. The LEDPA determination allowed MaineDOT to complete the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which is necessary for Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) approval. This would have enabled MaineDOT to begin securing and protecting the proposed N8c Route (also known as the Long Bridge Route) in anticipation of eventual construction.
This past June, MaineDOT learned that there was an undocumented eagle’s nest in the proposed alignment that did not appear on any eagle nest registry. The department consulted with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the ACOE to discuss possible options concerning the approved route and the eagle’s nest.
Early in November, the US Fish and Wildlife Service informed MaineDOT that the eagle’s nest is protected, and that the proposed bypass does not meet any of the criteria that would allow the nest to be moved. As a result, the ACOE indicated that it will have to reissue the LEDPA on a previously dismissed corridor option, and MaineDOT must now resubmit documentation concerning alternate routes.
MaineDOT is now evaluating whether to resubmit an application to support one of the remaining alternates as the preferred option for a bypass. Those alternatives include bypass options that are north of the previously approved route. MaineDOT is now planning to meet with the Midcoast Bypass Task Force on December 15 for input on whether to proceed. The time and location of the meeting will be scheduled and publicized in the near future.
The December 15 Midcoast Bypass Task Force meeting will include time for public comments, and there will be a 30-day written public comment period following the meeting. Upon conclusion of the comment period in early 2011, MaineDOT plans to make a recommendation to the incoming administration as to whether to proceed on resubmitting the application.
This development is the latest hurdle in the decades-long effort to address the serious congestion problem around Wiscasset. This past May, it appeared that the necessary documents were in place for MaineDOT to start the preliminary engineering associated with construction of the proposed project.
Over the years, controversy has existed as to whether a bypass was the best solution. Other possible solutions, including buses, signalization, and crossing guards, were considered and determined to be insufficient. Finding consensus on which bypass option was the most favorable has also been challenging, due to the nature and extent of impacts that the bypass options might cause. Potential impacts include displacing property owners, removing trucks from downtown Wiscasset, and construction effects on natural and cultural resources, including visual impacts associated with crossing the Sheepscot River.
MaineDOT and FHWA worked with many affected stakeholders by establishing a Midcoast Bypass Task Force in 2008. This group met for over a year to discuss the issues and their possible resolution. In late 2009, MaineDOT and FHWA submitted their request for a LEDPA determination to the Army Corps. That request identified the longest route (N2a) as its preferred option, based on numerous discussions with the Task Force and on its unanimous agreement not to oppose that location. However, the Army Corps subsequently chose N8c over N2a, because it has fewer natural and cultural resource impacts.
Map of Nest Area (PDF)
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