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Environment and Outdoors

Maine Transportation Officials Seek Feedback On Aging Machias Causeway

The Maine Department of Transportation is seeking feedback as it considers the fate of a Route 1 causeway and dike system in Machias.

On Tuesday evening, the department was planning to collect public comment and answer questions on whether the structure, which prevents tidal water from entering the Middle River through a series of gated culverts, should be rebuilt, rehabilitated or scrapped altogether.

Conservation groups, such as the Downeast Salmon Federation, have argued that the causeway's gate system belongs in another century, and has altered the area's natural habitat significantly over the last 75 years.

The group is advocating for an open span bridge to replace the current structure.

"The benefit would be that these several hundred acres of salt marsh would be restored. The clam flats would be restored because they wouldn't be impounded behind a fresh water pond, and the migratory pathway for sea-run fish would be restored," says executive director Dwayne Shaw.

But some are concerned that removing the tidal gates could impact surrounding river bank areas, historically developed for farming and other uses. Areas of concern mentioned in previous written testimony include stretches of land used by the public for events, farmers' markets, and even an old race track, as well as the Down East Sunrise Trail.

"There are a lot of different considerations to take into account," says Dale Doughty, Director of Outreach and Planning, with Maine DOT. "Obviously sea level rise in anything we do, fish passage issues, habitat restoration. That salt marsh is no longer a salt marsh. There are also implications with property owners."

The project, which will use federal funding, must also satisfy requirements in the National Environmental Policy Act.

The open house style meeting is to be held on the causeway itself from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., with an alternate location at Machias Memorial High School in case of inclement weather.