CALAIS — A group of volunteers will take up the issue of where to build a new bridge that would connect this border community with Canada. The committee is expected to report its findings at a meeting of the Calais City Council in February.
The issue of whether there should be a third bridge or a replacement bridge for one of the existing bridges across the St. Croix River between Calais and St. Stephen, New Brunswick, has raged unresolved for several years.
There currently are two bridges — the Ferry Point Bridge, which routes traffic through the downtown areas of the two communities, and the Milltown Bridge, about five miles northwest of downtown Calais, that is used mainly by local traffic.
About three years ago, the New Brunswick government announced a three-year highway agreement with the Canadian federal government to complete a four-lane, 150-mile highway between Lepreau, east of St. Stephen, and the Nova Scotia border, and to improve the highway between Lepreau and St. Stephen. That improvement probably will result in a four-lane highway loop around St. Stephen.
Although St. Stephen and Calais councilors have discussed the possibility of a third bridge or a replacement for the Milltown Bridge for several years, Calais officials cannot seem to agree where the bridge should be located. Suggested locations include the downtown area near the Calais library or the industrial park just north of downtown.
Calais business owners have pressured the City Council to avoid a location that would route traffic away from the Calais business district. But some proponents of a new bridge want it placed where trucks carrying hazardous materials could avoid the downtown area.
Baileyville officials got involved in the issue last year when they met with St. Stephen representatives and suggested that the third bridge be located at the end of Route 9, near the Irving Big Stop. They maintain that a bridge in that location would benefit all three communities.
At a meeting of the Calais City Council on Thursday night, Dennis Brown, mayor pro tem, and the council approved the creation of a 20-member committee that would review all options and return to the City Council with a recommendation in February.
Councilor Ken Colson Jr. suggested the city conduct an economic impact study, because the decision would have an impact on all of Calais. The city already has requested proposals for such a study, and the cost could reach more than $25,000.
Calais resident Robert Hinton, a member of the bridge committee, said the Maine Department of Transportation has already suggested that the new bridge be built near the existing Milltown Bridge. “Now couldn’t we put that money to better use in starting something down here?” he asked.
Hinton suggested the city look to St. Stephen for guidance. That community recently commissioned its own economic study, and that study recommended the town capitalize on its largest attraction, Ganong Candy, one of Canada’s premier chocolate candy manufacturers.
Other recommendations offered by the St. Stephen study included developing a chocolate museum and Candy Town playland, and building an 80-room motel and seafood restaurant.
Colson said he believed a Calais study was important because it could give the city ammunition to negotiate with the state for economic relief if the bridge would have a negative impact on the city.
“If the study comes back and says it is going to harm the economy of Calais … we will be able to go to the governor … [and say] `Now we need some state assistance to recover from this,”‘ he said.
Brown suggested that the committee get together, review the options and return in February with a recommendation. Among the options he said should be examined were where the bridge should be constructed or whether the city should proceed with an economic-impact study.
“We need to move on this, and it is time we act together as a community,” Brown said.