BAILEYVILLE – They are going to sue.
That’s what the Friends of Magurrewock announced at a meeting of the Town Council on Tuesday. The group wants to move a multimillion bridge slated to be built in Calais to Baileyville and they are ready to sue to make their point.
The group asked town councilors to become co-defendants in the suit, but no one leapt at that suggestion. However, the council agreed to discuss it at its next meeting.
The Friends group said it also needed the services of a qualified wetlands expert to counter state experts, but it doesn’t have the money to hire one. Town Manager Scott Harriman was asked to check into the cost.
Right now, two bridges connect Calais with neighboring St. Stephen, New Brunswick, in Canada: the downtown Ferry Point Bridge and the Milltown Bridge, near the city’s Industrial Park.
Construction on the $50 million project is expected to begin in the next few months in the United States. Canada also will spend up to $50 million on the project. A new two-lane limited access road from the bridge will cross near the Calais Industrial Park to connect with U.S. Route 1 and go through the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge.
The Friends of Magurrewock fears the Calais bridge will have a negative impact on the refuge. Right now they stand alone in their position; not even refuge officials have joined in the fight.
During the meeting, William Szirbik, the Friends’ newly appointed president, didn’t have anything positive to say about state and federal officials who have been involved with the bridge project. Mostly he characterized them in letters he has sent to federal officials and made public Monday night as “compromised and corrupted” and “cowardly and corrupt.”
In September, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it had issued its construction permit. That was the last federal hurdle the state needed to move forward with the project.
In their letter to the Corps after the decision, the Friends group wrote: “The Corps is guilty of sloppy and negligent enforcement of the rules, regulations and procedure as set forth in their own ‘Highway Methodology Workbook’ and elsewhere.”
Now the group says it stands ready to press its case.
Szirbik said that Calais stole the town’s bridge.
Councilor Derek Howard agreed, but said Calais residents did their homework and had fought hard to get the bridge in their town.
“I think I was one of the most outspoken about trying to get the bridge here in Baileyville. I think you’re correct, it was our bridge and they did their work and they took our bridge from us, good for them,” Howard said. “There was a democratic process that went on years ago. … [I] still think Baileyville is the best place for the bridge … [but] the decision was made and I’m satisfied with it.”
Howard said he also was concerned about the cost to the town if the wetlands expert had to go to court.
“You got to be realistic about this,” Szirbik countered. “You got to weigh what you have to lose down the line with what you have to invest today.”
Szirbik hinted that the future of the town’s largest employer, Domtar Inc.’s pulp and paper mill, was uncertain and suggested the new bridge would be the answer to the town’s problems. He said the new bridge would help develop new jobs in the area as motels and customs officials moved their bases of operation from Calais to Baileyville.
After questioning from Councilor Tim Call, Szirbik admitted that building the bridge in Calais would help that city. “It won’t hurt Calais, economically, it would help Calais economically,” Szirbik said.
Other members of the Friends group expressed concern that the councilors weren’t behind the project. “They’re against us,” one woman said after Howard and Call had stated their positions.
An estimated 140,000 trucks enter the United States in Calais annually. Friends supporter Nancy Diadone said that 844 percent more trucks – or an estimated 1,181,600 trucks – were expected to cross the bridge in the future, though it remained unclear where these figures originated.
“Halifax is going to have container ships coming in from Asia and when that bridge is built they have to come through that bridge because it’s going to be a prototype,” Diadone said.
Maine Department of Transportation specialist Kevin Rousseau said Thursday that he didn’t know where the group got its number.
“That’s just not true,” Rousseau said of the percentage amount quoted.
Asked after the meeting what would happen if the Friends legal action meant the bridge would not be built, Linda Rayner, council chairwoman, said, “Actually you’ve caught me. I don’t have an answer for that. It’s something I would have to think about obviously,” she said.
But if it weren’t built, she said, the area would have to live with the long lines of traffic coming in and going out of Maine.
“Well, there’s going to be a traffic backup at the third bridge; wherever a new bridge is built, it’s going to slow traffic down,” she said.