David Pike of Farmington points to a ladder used to get to the Sandy River on his property. The bushes in the stream are where the riverbank was last year. Gravel bars like the one seen in the upper left cause the river to change course over time. Livermore Falls Advertiser photo by Pam Harnden

FARMINGTON — David Pike has lost quite a bit of his land over the years from changes in the flow of the Sandy River and Temple Stream. He fears more will be lost, and he does hot have answers on how to stop it.

The Pike family grows strawberries, corn, pumpkins and other crops.

Pike bought land from Allison and Frances Hoar in the 1970s. Adjoining land was purchased from Archie Davis shortly afterward.

Pike said he closed on the first property in September. That October, there were three floods that washed away the straw covering the strawberry plants.

“I think they went through the winter with no straw. It was unrelenting,” he said. “After a few years people started telling me Allison never had that many floods. I used that lower field before the channel cut across it. I lost about 3 acres to the channel.”

The buildup of gravel bars in the Sandy River can cause erosion of the streambank on the opposite side. Over the past 40 to 50 years, David Pike of Farmington has lost acres of cropland to the river. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

For a year or two after purchasing the property, Pike was able to remove part of the gravel bars in the Sandy River, which helped keep the river in its usual course.

Then, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection stopped issuing permits for gravel removal, resulting in the loss of a lot of agricultural land near Farmington.

Gary Raymond, executive director of the Farm Service Agency for Franklin County, said the Davis farm in New Sharon lost a 36-acre field for several years. The Sandy River recently returned to its old channel, making the field available again.

Farmington has also been affected by the river’s changing course. Heavy rains eroded the riverbank threatening the loss of the Whittier Road in 2011 and 2012. Just 40 feet remained between the river and the road.

An extensive streambank stabilization project was completed in September 2013. Part of the project included the removal of part of a nearby sandbar in the Sandy River.

Town Manager Richard Davis said Wednesday the Whittier project is doing fine.

“The sandbar is building up,” he said. “We will be taking more out.”

Farmers find it more difficult to obtain permits to remove sand and gravel from the river.

Pike is concerned about losing more his productive cropland.

“I lost 30 feet (along the riverbank) this winter,” he said.

This view of the Sandy River is looking toward David Pike’s property on the left. The creation of large gravel bars on the right side of the river has led to erosion and loss of land for Pike. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

Pike wonders if the Farmington Sewer Plant could be having an impact on the Sandy River.

“They filled the road in (to the plant),” he said. “It was like making a big earthen dam on both sides. Before then there was a channel, a relief valve for the Sandy River. When the water got so high it would come around. They blocked that.

“After the plant was built, the water couldn’t go anywhere. It goes over my land. Prior to that, the water would go the other way if it got high enough.

“If they hadn’t blocked the relief valve, the water may have gone around it and may not have come onto my land. That may not have happened. I don’t know. The flooding started within four years of the plant being built.”

Pike said the bank on his side of the river has eroded 75 feet. There is a large gravel bar on the opposite side that could force the river to move closer still and eat away more of his land.

Davis said the Sandy River is a very active system.

“I don’t think the sewer plant has had an impact. The town moved the outfall downstream to catch the Temple Stream,” he said. “The access road has been there since 1972.”

Pike does not know if anyone is concerned about the movement of the Sandy River.

“I think the town should be,” he said.

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