THOMASTON – The Select Board has reviewed maps of potential routes for an east-west bypass highway, but Town Manager Kara George will not release them because she believes they are not public documents.

That is part of the few details about the town’s highway project that were released after The Courier-Gazette/VillageSoup requested emails from town officials under Maine Freedom of Access Act. The so-called east-west highway has also been referred to as the North Road in the documents.

The possible bypass route would likely be somewhere north of Route 1, crossing from around Old County Road to west of the downtown near the bridge to Warren. The newest documents reveal that the Ashland Drive area off Beechwood Street has been considered along with the sprayfields for the wastewater treatment facility.

The emails requested start in March 2020 when Pollution Control Superintendent John Fancy emailed Tim Sawtelle of Dirigo Engineering and cc’d Select Board Member Bill Hahn. In the email, Fancy sets up a time to meet with the engineering firm at his office. “I have attached some sketches that show the approximate location of the proposed road (you will have to put map A and map B together to get the complete picture) and the second map shows how the road could fit through the sprayfields.”

Sawtelle estimated April 13 that for $15,000 the firm could provide a basic desktop evaluation of the environmental data, topography conditions, property ownership and preliminary route selection.

George emailed members of the select board April 27, 2020, saying the “North Road” study could take 6 to 8 weeks.

“The North Road is a project that the town has been discussing for decades to offer a by-pass for Route 1 traffic,” she said. “This is a future project that is discussed further in the Comprehensive Plan. I want to clarify to the board that I do not recommend pursuing this study at this time as I do not find the project to be priority in the midst of the financial unknowns that we are currently in. John Fancy agrees with this determination; however, we want to apprise the board of what the study would entail and the potential future costs to do so. I could not ask Thomaston residents to pay for this study when folks are wondering how they are going to pay their tax and sewer bills. There is a lot of uncertainty right now, and I think it is wise for us to hold on to funds and delay any non-essential projects until we resume some normalcy.”

Later in November 2020, Fancy emailed George again about the study saying there was included a map showing two possible routes the road could take. It mentioned what appears to be the same proposal for a Dirigo study.

“This study does not address the impact such a road would have on the town such as less trucks on Main Street, affect to business in downtown, future development along proposed road and other benefits or negative aspects of the project. This study would be a first step, getting the basic engineering done that would allow a study of the impacts to be more accurate and detailed.”

On June 24, 2021, Fancy sent a memo to the Select Board and Town Manager noting that to be considered for infrastructure funding through the Maine Department of Transportation, for local highway construction, a preliminary study would need to be done. It noted the earlier discussions: “At that time a source of funding even for a study was uncertain. Currently, funds for a project like this appear to be soon available from the federal level through the MaineDOT.”

The Select Board voted four days later to approve up to $20,000 for the Dirigo study. The Select Board held a closed-door meeting with Dirigo Sept. 13, prompting The Courier-Gazette to begin looking into the matter.

On Sept. 23, George wrote to town attorney Paul Gibbons concerning a request for documents under the Freedom of Access Act.

“I already sent them what was public from their first request,” she wrote. “Any documents or maps that were discussed in executive session I’m not sharing because they are not public at this time. Attached are the only 2 emails that I have in regards to this project and I’m pretty sure this is all that any of us has in our email because the majority of the discussion happened in executive session. I am telling the god’s honest truth that I don’t have a feasibility study. I don’t have invoices. I don’t have reports. I do have maps which are not public. Village Soup was already sent the proposal from Dirigo because that was public. They already have the agenda packets and minutes from the meeting. However, Village Soup continues to write articles that insinuate that we are lying to the public and builds distrust and discontent in our municipal government. I have never been so appalled at such poor reporting and misinformation! At this point, I kindly request that you please handle this request and I leave it in your capable hands. I do not have any comments for Dan Dunkle or Christine Simmonds and I do not want to talk to them.” (Emphasis hers).

In response to the Courier’s requests for emails, Peter Lammert wrote to George Sept. 27, “I have been chirping about this for years. I do not remember if I said I was giving up on it when I found out that Ashland Drive subdivision was going to wipe out the most likely crossing point from Beechwood to Mill River verbally in a meeting or in an email. But that would have been 10 to 15 years ago or more!”

The Town of Thomaston has acquired pieces of property over the years (for more than a decade through unpaid taxes) in the area the proposed bypass road could be located north of Route 1. These include three properties in the vicinity of Ashland Drive, which is a well-made road with few houses on it and lots available for a larger subdivision. It comes with a sidewalk running its length. It branches off Beechwood Street to the east (toward Rockland).

The potential route of the new highway would likely be near Dragon Mountain as well and could cut through Public Works property not far from Ashland Drive and, according to the emails, the Pollution Control facility.

Town Assessors’ Agent David Martucci said some of these properties owned by the town would be hard to access near the CMP lines due to their remoteness and lack of access roads.

He said it might be possible to create a route that did not take anyone’s house or property.

Thomaston and Dirigo Engineering will hold a public information session on the possible east-west highway Thursday, Oct. 21, 6 p.m. in the Municipal Building according to the town’s newsletter.

The newsletter, released on Oct. 8, said the session will include a presentation of Dirigo’s study on the project followed by a public comment portion moderated by Mike Mayo.

Assistant Editor Christine Simmonds contributed to this report.