News Feature

Originally published in The Weekly Packet, July 1, 2021
Sedgwick fish passage restoration project improves roadway safety
July construction on Route 15 also opens spawning habitat to migrating fish

Area map

Area map showing location of culvert replacement.

Photo courtesy of Maine Coast Heritage Trust

A culvert scheduled for replacement along Snows Cove Road in Sedgwick is an exciting step forward for the health of the Bagaduce River and beyond, partners in the project announced June 28. The work will replace an aging culvert under Route 15, improving the longevity of this part of the highway for vehicles and helping the stream to function naturally.

While this section of Route 15, not far from Sedgwick Elementary School, will be closed for up to three weeks during construction, starting July 19, these much-needed repairs and improvements to the road-stream crossing will provide long-term safety for vehicle traffic, according to a press release. Cars will be rerouted over the Bagaduce Falls and around via the Coastal Road in Brooksville, while larger vehicles should use Route 172 through Sedgwick.

A few years ago, community members from Sedgwick, Brooksville, and Penobscot formed a Three Town Committee charged with, among other things, identifying and prioritizing streams and ponds that have barriers to fish species that migrate between the ocean and fresh water to spawn. To aid in the effort, the committee called on multiple agencies and nonprofit organizations, including Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, The Nature Conservancy of Maine, and Maine Coast Heritage Trust, to help restore free-flowing streams connected to the Bagaduce River.

The Snow Brook project in Sedgwick was one of the barriers identified by the committee—and also the most expensive to repair. With construction costs alone reaching nearly $800,000, this was a daunting challenge for the town and its partners. Fortunately, a number of successful grant awards provided enough funding to cover the cost of the entire project, at no cost to the town.

“Funding a project of this size and scope would be a huge lift for a small municipality like Sedgwick,” said Ben Astbury, chairman of the Sedgwick board of selectmen. “We were extremely fortunate to have built the partnerships necessary to complete this project with the use of grant funding. This project will benefit the ecology of the watershed, added safety for motorists, and recreational opportunities for generations to come.”

The crossing repair qualified as a Municipal Partnership Initiative Project through a program administered by the Maine Department of Transportation, a critical funding source and key to making it possible. “This partnership allows us to do work that we otherwise wouldn’t get done,” said John Devin, MDOT Region Engineer, in the press release.

“This is an example of a project that can bring a lot of people together, even if they don’t share all of the same goals. Whether you care about fish or about vehicles, or both, you need to work together to get the project done,” said Ciona Ulbrich, Senior Project Manager at Maine Coast Heritage Trust. “This project needed so many to make it possible: the landowners around the crossing, the town government, many state and federal agencies involved in highway and stream projects, multiple funders, and non-governmental organizations who have a variety of roles. It couldn’t have come this far without each and every one doing their part to help it come together.”

The existing metal pipe culvert will be replaced with a much larger-capacity concrete crossing. This will help accommodate increased water flows during potential flooding events and allow fish and other wildlife to move freely up- and downstream. For a few decades now, this culvert has prevented fish from gaining access to over five miles of important stream habitat and has blocked alewives from reaching 155-acre Frost Pond, where they historically spawned each spring before returning to the ocean.

“This is such an exciting opportunity to help fish populations rebound in the Bagaduce River and the Gulf of Maine, all while increasing the flood security of Maine’s road systems,” said Ben Matthews, Watershed Restoration Scientist at The Nature Conservancy in Maine. “This project is a template for how we can work across the state to meet climate resilience, conservation and public safety goals.”

“The connection of freshwater ponds, streams and rivers to the marine ecosystem is a critical part of what makes the diversity of animals and plants thrive, so this restoration project can contribute to the improved conditions of our near shore coastal waters and the fish that live there,” said Paul Anderson, Executive Director of Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries.

Maine Earth of Hampden will perform the construction work, following specifications drawn up by a team of engineers led by Robert Blunt of VHB. In addition to that provided through MDOT, funding included a grant from the National Coastal Resilience Fund, a public-private partnership administered through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, as well as an award from the 2016 Chevron Marine Oil Terminal Facility Natural Resource Damage Settlement, whose trustees include the Maine Department of Environmental Protection; Maine Department of Marine Resources; Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry; Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and NOAA. Additional funding has been provided by NOAA, The Nature Conservancy, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, and a number of generous private donors with ties to the area.

Selectboard Chairman Astbury noted the importance of recognizing the sacrifice by all necessary to complete the project safely, responsibly and within the construction window available. “We would like to thank everyone for their patience and understanding while we pursue the completion of this very important project.”.