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Levee project alters Fort Kent Blockhouse landscape

FORT KENT, Maine — The landscape surrounding the historic Fort Kent Blockhouse has undergone some changes as contractors removed trees from behind the building to prepare to improve the town’s levee system.

Fort Kent director of planning and economic development Steve Pelletier secured federal grant monies over the last several years to install about 800 feet of concrete wall and earth fill to expand the existing levee on the St. John River to the Fish River Bridge to help protect the area, including the historic site, from future flood damage.

Pelletier said it was necessary to remove the trees per the levee project requirements.

“The levee freeboard modification project was designed by (engineering firm) Sevee & Maher to meet guidelines and specification of the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the blessing of the Maine State Historic Preservation,” Pelletier said.

“USACE requires a 15-foot setback buffer with all of their levees, including the one on the St. John River and this modified one on the Fish River.  Because of this, most of the trees had to be removed within the setback and nothing else can be in that buffer, so no other trees will be planted,” he said.

According to Pelletier, project requirements aside, planting more trees would ultimately have a detrimental effect on the blockhouse.

“If you look at older, original pictures of the blockhouse, it was never intended to have trees around it,” Pelletier said. “The trees actually had a negative effect on the building as it was in the shade most of the time and the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry, the owners of the blockhouse, indicated this created insect and moisture issues over the years.”

Without the trees, the S.W. Collins lumber house, located adjacent to and just behind the historic property, can easily be seen. Pelletier said the town will not build a fence or other structure to separate the structures because it would encroach on the required 15-foot setback buffer.

S.W. Collins rents the land on which the lumberyard sits from Fort Kent resident Karen Ouellette. Pelletier said it is unclear at this time whether Ouellette or S.W. Collins plan to build a fence or or plant trees on that land to separate the view of the lumberyard from that of the blockhouse.

Pelletier said that in any case, the cosmetic changes to the blockhouse landscape are worthwhile.

“I think protecting downtown with another three feet of wall is worth it versus looking at a few buildings down in the back,” he said.

If all goes as planned, Pelletier said the levee construction should be complete by the end of next month.

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