THOMASTON — The Town of Thomaston is in negotiations with Dirigo Engineering, concerning the potential construction of an east/west highway that would bypass the downtown from Old County Road to Route 1 near the bridge with Warren. Local residential properties would likely be affected.

“It is our understanding that the Town of Thomaston is interested in evaluating the feasibility of developing an east-west road located to the north of the village area,” Timothy Sawtelle of Dirigo wrote July 15, in a proposal to Pollution Control Superintendent John Fancy.

“The road should connect with US Route 1 on the west side of Thomaston in the vicinity of the Toll Bridge Road and extend to Old County Road toward Dexter Street.”

In the proposal, the firm outlines what it could do for the town to determine the feasibility of the project including evaluating possible routes in terms of environmental impact.

Part of the process would determine what properties could be affected by the project, though the firm said it would not be involved in the property surveys, valuations or acquisition under the current proposal.

The Select Board voted 4-0 June 28 to authorize Town Manager Kara George to contract with Dirigo Engineering for a feasibility study for an east-west highway, north of the village, with costs to not exceed $20,000.

The Select Board held two closed-door meetings, which were presumably about this project. The Sept. 13 meeting was with the engineering firm, and the Sept. 20 meeting was with town attorney Paul Gibbons.

The agenda for the Sept. 13 meeting listed MRS Title 1 405 (6C) as the reason for the executive session. The item on the agenda states: “to discuss or consider the acquisition or the use of real or personal property with Dirigo Engineering.”

This law states a board may hold closed-door executive sessions for deliberations including “discussion or consideration of the condition, acquisition or the use of real or personal property… only if premature disclosures of the information would prejudice the competitive or bargaining position of the body or agency.”

The Sept. 20 meeting listed MRS Title 1 405 (E) as the reasons for the executive session. This allows a closed-door meeting to discuss legal rights and duties of the board when “premature general public knowledge would clearly place the State, municipality or other public agency or person at a substantial disadvantage.”

The agenda item for this meeting states: “for consultation with the Town Attorney, Paul Gibbons, concerning the legal rights and duties of the body.”

Select Board member Sandra Moore said in a Sept. 15 interview that the board had many questions and concerns about the results of the feasibility study, including how close the proposed road would be to private residences.

Moore said the town would contact any residents who would be affected by the proposed construction before the board approves the plan. The thoughts and feelings of these residents may affect the board’s final vote.

Select Board member Pete Lammert gave an interview Sept. 20 about the project as well.

Lammert said discussion about this project is not new, and in fact has been discussed since possibly the 1950s.

Right now, Lammert said, the town is trying to “figure out who’s on first and what’s on second,” in terms of this project. It is unknown where it will start, where it will end and how it will be paid for.

“No matter what, it’s gonna be expensive,” Lammert said.

He did not think this downtown bypass would negatively impact businesses. Once tourists get stuck in traffic downtown, he said, they will only think of Thomaston as an inconvenience.

The main idea behind the project, which Lammert said he would classify as a highway, is to create an alternate route for trucks. He said it would also serve as a detour route if there was a bad car crash that shut down Route 1.

In one of his many roles for the town, Lammert directs traffic when such crashes occur. Ten years ago, there was such a crash, and it closed all of Route 1. Lammert said with no bypass, residents had to use a detour to get home, which added significant mileage.

He worries it will take a fatal crash for the state to look at traffic problems in Thomaston.

Town Manager Kara George denied requests for an interview concerning this project Sept. 17, and said all requests for information must come through her office, not members of the Select Board.

Her email to The Courier-Gazette, the Select Board and town attorney came in response to the newspaper’s Freedom of Access Act request for documents concerning the new highway project.

In her email response to our official request for documents, she stated there is no “prepared feasibility study to share at this time;” there is no map “to share at this time;” and “the only document that is public to share is the attached proposal and agenda packets.”

It is unknown whether other documents exist that she believes are not public under the law.

Public officials indicated a map was shown to the Select Board “with a line drawn on it.”

“I am requesting that any future inquiries for information from VillageSoup that is outside of public meetings are streamlined through my office and not individual Select Board members,” George said.

“I did not receive your request until Thursday, as I was out of the office Wednesday. Then, I find out that an article was posted publicly Wednesday afternoon. According to FOAA state laws, I have five business days to respond to a request whether it is an official written request, an email or a phone call. I do not intend nor will I ever disclose information that is conducted in an executive session.

“As such, I respectfully decline your request for an interview at this time. When the Town of Thomaston has information that is public, we will be happy to discuss this further with you at that time.”

As part of the request for information, we asked for a map of the proposed highway project. George said, in her email, that there is no such map, and there were no invoices or letters with Dirigo Engineering concerning the potential project other than a proposal document, which she provided.

The bridge on the Thomaston/Warren town line. Photo by Christine Simmonds

Toll Bridge Road in Thomaston. Photo by Christine Simmonds

Dexter Road in Thomaston. Photo by Christine Simmonds