River bank to be stabilized

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BETHEL – Gracie M. Verrill can rest easy. Municipal officials have agreed to stabilize a bank of the Androscoggin River that threatened to wash her remains downstream.

Over the past few years, the river collapsed the bank to within 5 feet of Verrill’s resting place. She died on May 19, 1890, at the age of 46, according to her marble headstone at Bethel Riverside Cemetery off North Road.

“It’s a serious project,” Town Manager Scott Cole said by phone on Tuesday afternoon. “Several hundred feet of bank will need to be stabilized. Some of the town’s oldest grave sites are closest to where it eroded. It’s a classic hairpin turn on the river and the current is pushing into the cemetery, which has been in peril for the past couple of years.”

At Monday night’s selectmen’s meeting, officials agreed to partner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service on a $180,000 project designed to stabilize the river bank, Cole said.

Bethel’s match of the federal money is $45,000, which includes a share from the Riverside Cemetery organization.

The project calls for 4,100 cubic yards of 24-inch rock rip-rap and 1,300 cubic yards of gravel bedding. It goes out to bid next week, with a projected bid opening by Aug. 3, Cole said. Work won’t begin until the river water level recedes, which could be late summer or early fall.

In Cole’s eight years as town manager, this is Bethel’s third riverbank stabilization project involving the Androscoggin.

In 1999, the town fixed the bank downstream of the cemetery for private landowners John Mason and Betty Gilbert. In 2004, using Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, Bethel officials stopped the river from destroying Davis Park.

Now, again with federal money, the town can keep the remains of Gracie Verrill and other 19th century cemetery inhabitants from being swept downstream to Rumford.

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