WESTPORT – Scores of residents rallied Saturday along the western bank of the Sheepscot River to spread an SOS message – “Save Our Sheepscot.” Area residents are calling for no new bridges to be built across the pristine waterway, but if all else fails, have offered an alternative route to state Department of Transportation proposals for a Wiscasset bypass. The DOT is eyeing several locations to reroute traffic away from downtown Wiscasset, which include bridges and tunnels.
During the summer months, traffic jams plague Wiscasset because of a winding approach to its downtown area and the Donald E. Davey Bridge, built 18 years ago, which crosses the Sheepscot River.
The DOT has narrowed its suggested routes to two and has one tunnel option still on the table, Nigel Calder, a member of the Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association board of directors, told the crowd that gathered Saturday on the lawn of a private estate on the river’s edge.
The stately home, which is owned by Dave and Judy Bertran and which has been in her family for generations, is in the path of one of the state’s options. An adjacent cemetery is in direct line with the plan for a southern bypass route. Bertran is a local representative on DOT’s Public Advisory Committee, which was established for the Wiscasset Route 1 Corridor Study.
“There’s been no creative thinking on this problem,” Bertran said, suggesting there are other ways to alleviate traffic congestion without building bridges. “You shouldn’t build another bridge to solve the problem. The problem is getting to the bridge.”
The Sheepscot River is one of the few remaining saltwater rivers on the East Coast on which one can sail from open ocean to a port, in this case Wiscasset, without traveling under bridges, pipelines or power cables, supporters said, and has virtually no commercial development on its shores.
The northern route proposed by DOT could affect 75 homes, including three subdivisions and a salmon spawning area, and comes close to Wiscasset Primary School. It also would disturb some of the finest conservation areas in the region, Calder said. This option would require a 135-foot-high bridge, he said, noting that the new Sagadahoc Bridge in Bath is 75 feet high.
In comparison, the state’s southern recommendation would affect fewer homes, although still a significant number. This project also would intrude on some of the area’s largest undeveloped tracts of land, he said. “It just tears up this region.
“Those two routes are simply unacceptable,” Calder said.
The alternative route proposed by Calder affects one home and would direct traffic just south of the existing bridge, past the historic district, through a covered roadway, and would then become an open highway on trestles to Pottle Cove Road. The road would extend either under or over a railroad crossing and rejoin Route 1 near the power lines at Mason Station. This option involves 1.2 to 1.4 miles of roadway.
“This is not just a Wiscasset problem,” Calder said. “We are the problem – not just the summer traffic. We have to realize we contribute to the problem and we must contribute to the solution.”
Calder also asked supporters for monetary donations toward the group’s efforts to preserve the Sheepscot.
He said that many in the crowd could afford to give $5,000 or $10,000 to the effort.
Contributions can be made to any of the primary groups involved in the attempt to protect the river: Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association, Midcoast Alliance For Planning, Friends of Coastal Preservation and Conservation Law Foundation. “You need to do it,” he said.
Before concluding the rally, Bertran relayed a message to supporters: “The only thing we want to see over the Sheepscot is a rainbow.”