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Border Commission awards $250,000 for Fort Kent levee extension

FORT KENT, Maine — The federal-state collaborative Northern Border Regional Commission recently awarded the town of Fort Kent $250,000 to help fund the installation of approximately 800 feet of concrete wall and earth fill to expand the existing levee on the St. John River to the Fish River Bridge.

“This is a project that I have been working on for over two years now,” said Fort Kent’s

Director of Economic Development Steven Pelletier said. He added that there are no safety issues with the current levee, but that the extension would help mitigate future flood damage in that part of downtown.

Pelletier said on Aug. 8 that he does not anticipate any ground work on the levee extension project to begin this year, as the town is still lining up various other state and federal funding sources to pay for the estimated total cost that is between $530,000 and $720,000.

A proposed concrete wall and earthen berm, designed to mitigate future flood water in Fort Kent, would run from the Fish River bridge on East Main Street to the end of the current levee, located near the Fort Kent Blockhouse. The wall would be at about the same height as the existing guardrail. (Don Eno)

Following widespread flooding in 2008, it was clear that the properties around the historic Fort Kent Blockhouse were susceptible to increased flood damage. The large levee that separates the downtown area from the St. John River is reduced in size and eventually stops in the area around Meadowbrook Lane and Blockhouse Road, where the Fish River enters the St. John.

In 2008, both rivers crested at the same time, inundating the area, forcing the evacuation of area residents, and causing millions of dollars worth of damage to buildings and infrastructure. Addressing deficiencies in the town’s levee protection system was identified as a high priority in the community’s most recent Capital Investment Program.

The issue, Pelletier said, is that the area around the blockhouse currently presents emergency response crews with a large area in which to erect a berm, to prevent rising waters from backflowing into the downtown area.

When completed, the levee would extend all the way to the East Main Street Fish River bridge, leaving only the actual bridge roadway to be sandbagged.

The initial concept for the blockhouse levee extension called for a steel curtain to be installed from the Fish River Bridge downstream, along Blockhouse Road, which would have transitioned into an earthen berm running behind the blockhouse itself.

Pelletier said Tuesday that under the current proposal, the steel curtain portion instead would be a concrete retaining wall, approximately at the same height as the existing guardrail.

At last year’s public meeting, some residents questioned why there were no plans to extend the larger levee along the St. John River to provide protection for the eastern parts of town.

Town Manager Donald Guimond said at a public meeting on the project last year that such a project would be “astronomically larger” and much more costly than the one being proposed near the blockhouse. He had estimated the cost of such a large and complex project to be several million dollars at least.

The funding for Fort Kent’s levee extension project is part of $1,557,484 the Northern Border Regional Commission awarded statewide this year to economic and infrastructure development programs, including $100,000 awarded to the City of Caribou to demolish and clean up the former Birdseye processing plant.

In an Aug. 4 statement announcing the release of funds by the commission for Maine, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin said, “Whether it be fixing a sewer system, supporting efforts to revitalize local attractions for tourism, or reconstructing pedestrian sidewalks, infrastructure development is key to our communities’ success.”

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