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Road discussion gets stuck in mud

Town faces a crisis
By Carolyn Zachary | Mar 30, 2021
Photo by: Carolyn Zachary Bonne Terre Road in Waldo March 27, closed after a second application of gravel failed to stabilize the muddy roadway. Maintenance of Waldo's dirt roads was discussed at length at town meeting that morning.

Waldo — With mud season in full swing, the impassable condition of some of Waldo's dirt roads dominated discussion at the annual town meeting March 27. First Selectman Kathy Littlefield and moderator Walter Whitcomb agreed the town is facing a crisis.

Voters elect officials, approve budget increase During town meeting March 27, residents elected a selectman and other town officials, approved a budget showing an increase of 9.7% in the amount to be raised from taxes year-over-year, learned about a new Cemetery Committee and honored two retiring longtime public servants. The tax figure is preliminary; it will decrease with deductions for revenue-sharing and the Homestead Exemption, and will increase when school and county taxes are factored in. Voters elected Tom Wagner second selectman, to succeed Harnden, who is retiring. First Selectman Kathy Littlefield presented him with a plaque, thanking him for his 10 years on the board. A female resident said, "I just want to thank the selectmen for all they do, for very little money." Brian Walker, interim chief since Jan. 1, was elected fire chief, and Wagner was reelected emergency management director with a pay increase to $1,500 from $1,100. Sue Blais was reelected to the Planning Board and associate member Mike Hodgdon was elected a member. Littlefield noted that associate members are needed, and asked anyone interested to contact her. She also presented a plaque to Lee Stover, retiring Planning Board chairman, thanking him for his 15 years of service. Sandra Smith was reelected town clerk, excise tax and real estate tax collector, and Kellie Jacobs was reelected treasurer and registrar of voters. Voters approved appropriating $175,310.50 from taxes, which includes contributions of $4,360.50 for local nonprofit agencies serving Waldo residents and the annual donation to the Rena Whitney Scholarship Fund ($500). That is up from a total of $159,792 from taxes in 2020. Littlefield also told voters about a new, “very active” Cemetery Committee led by Jennifer Pierce, which plans to develop a multi-year plan to restore the town’s cemeteries. Other committee members are Judy Kaiser, Deb Burwell and Steve Ellis. “They’re going great guns!” Littlefield said

Littlefield described 3-foot-deep ruts in collapsed sections of Bonne Terre Road, and expressed her frustration in recounting her call to the town’s Maine Department of Transportation liaison, expected to come to Waldo this week.

"I called and I said, 'For crying out loud, is this particular to Waldo, to Bonne Terre? Because although all of our roads were muddy, they were nothing like the Bonne Terre. There were 3-foot ruts in there and more. The grader was stuck, the gravel trucks were stuck; I don't know how any contractor would put their equipment through there. But they did."

Littlefield told residents, "About two weeks ago, the bottom fell out of the Bonne Terre Road. ... There was 1,168 yards of stone and rock put on that road and (even) then it didn't hit the bottom of it."

Public Works also spread 230 yards on Savage Road, 126 yards on East Waldo Road, 18 yards on Old County Road and 36 yards on Gurney Hill Road, she said.

"Two days ago, it (Bonne Terre) did it again. We had Public Works come down, probably spread another 800 to 900 yards." Bonne Terre Road remains impassable and is closed.

Filling all 50 COVID-permitted seats in the Community Center behind the Town Office, voters voiced their road maintenance concerns early in the meeting during discussion of Road Commissioner Alvin Winslow’s salary and wages. At Whitcomb’s suggestion, they suspended and reopened the discussion later, when they reached the budget line item for town roads.

A number of townspeople spoke about current road issues, primarily on Bonne Terre, Savage and East Waldo roads. Residents spoke of having to park elsewhere and walk to their homes, described vehicles getting stuck, and expressed concerns about the ability of ambulances and fire trucks to reach their homes in emergencies.

Several expressed gratitude for work done last year, which included partial ditching of Bonne Terre, East Waldo and Savage roads, reconstruction and culvert replacements on East Waldo Road, ditching Back Brooks Road, spreading over 600 yards of stone for spring mud and April storm washouts on Back Brooks, East Waldo and Cross Lane, and more. Littlefield said the roads also were graded three times last summer.

But one Savage Road resident said he asked two years ago for culverts that are still needed. Others said potholes "come right back" after grading, and asked if there were a better way to fix the road problems that several said have existed for decades.

Still others spoke about damage to the roads from non-residents' speeding and “dirt bikes doing swirlies" on newly graded roads, particularly on the recently reconstructed East Waldo Road. Now that mud season is here, the latest fad on East Waldo Road is “big pickup trucks doing mud runs.” Littlefield later noted that residents are taking down license plate numbers and notifying the Sheriff’s Office.

Some Waldo residents of 20 to 30 years said dirt roads have been an ongoing problem. One woman asked, “Why don't we fix them? Why don't we get engineers in who know how to fix them, get them graded appropriately, get a bond out, spread it out over so much time ― of course it costs money, but we want people to move here, we want to increase our tax base, we've got to have proper roads.”

Other residents asked why the town doesn't bring in an engineer to assess the road issues and make recommendations. Second Selectman Herb Harnden noted that selectmen did that last year, which led to the improvements completed on East Waldo Road.

Road Commissioner Winslow attributed the dirt road problems to Waldo’s being a small town with a small budget ― and trying to live within that budget ― while “tremendous” population growth has put many more drivers on the town’s dirt roads.

“It's a dirt road,” he said, “and the more traffic you put on it, the more potholes you're going to get.”

A voter responded, “But it's the same ones that were never graded (sufficiently) …  that same day that are coming back. If you'd gone 2 inches deeper, 3 inches deeper with some of 'em ... . ”

Winslow replied, “Well, we could try to make another pass ... but the roads need a lot of work and we just don't have the budget.

“And another thing is,” he said, “you can put up a speed limit (sign), but nobody reads it.”

Amid laughter, someone suggested the town “put up a speed bump,” to which another responded that with the potholes, there are “already enough bumps!”

On a more serious note, another dirt road resident said, “People are going 60 mph in front of our house,” while another spoke of children playing in front yards as drivers speed by, which prompted a call for signs saying “Children at play.” Another resident wondered about closing the dirt roads to all but local traffic.

In response to a question about how much the town has already spent this year to address the current mud conditions, Littlefield said she thinks the town roads reserve account will cover the work done to date, and that will leave just over $74,000 in the roads account, but expenditures to date "will drain the reserve account. And we can't leave the (Bonne Terre) road like that."

In response to another question, Littlefield ran through what was spent on roads last year and what was carried over as surplus. The questioner replied: “All I ask is that this year, if we need to bring the roads better, ... we spend the money, we don't leave it in there. If we appropriate it, we should spend it. We hear that we're on a strict budget, but every year we turn money in. So I agree the roads could be graded much better. There's potholes that come back immediately, there's berms on the side of the roads that don't drain the road enough. We should spend the money we appropriate and we should grade the roads correctly.”

Summing up, Whitcomb said, "We have obviously gotten to an extraordinary point. ... We're at a crisis."

"We are at a crisis," Littlefield agreed.

Whitcomb quipped that, because all three selectmen live on dirt roads, "they might have some self-interest" in getting the roads fixed.

"I think there's a commitment to move ahead and bring back some information to the townspeople,” he said, “likely at a special meeting, and we should put pressure on people to show up."

Waldo residents vote on a warrant article at town meeting March 27. Per COVID guidelines, it was a full house, with all 50 allowed seats occupied. (Photo by: Carolyn Zachary)
First Selectman Kathy Littlefield speaks with retiring Second Selectman Herb Harnden before the start of town meeting March 27. During the meeting, Littlefield gave him a plaque in thanks for his 10 years on the Waldo Board of Selectmen. (Photo by: Carolyn Zachary)
Retiring Planning Board Chairman Lee Stover March 27, holding the plaque just presented to him in thanks for his 15 years of service on the board. (Photo by: Carolyn Zachary)
Selectmen Herb Harnden, Shirley Caler and Kathy Littlefield, from left, with moderator Walter Whitcomb, standing, at the Waldo town meeting March 27. Beyond Whitcomb are Town Clerk Sandra Smith and Treasurer Kellie Jacobs. (Photo by: Carolyn Zachary)
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