FARMINGTON — At the Dec. 14 meeting, selectmen discussed further financial support for the Rail Trail Bridge project and possible uses of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

In September $5,000 was approved towards a pre-engineering report required as part of a federal tourism grant to rebuild the bridge. The grant application is due Jan. 31. The grant would cover 80% of project costs.

The railroad bridge that allowed snowmobile travel across the Sandy River was removed several years ago. Since then the town, Androscoggin Valley Council of Government and the state have looked at ways to replace it. A study in the early 2000s estimated the cost at $1.6 million. With inflation the projected cost is now $2.8 million.

The grant needs a $600,000 match. There has been a $300,000 commitment toward that, Town Manager Christian Waller said. High Peaks Alliance Executive Director Brent West, who has been working on the project, was looking for the town to match that commitment or some portion of it.

An economic analysis determined the bridge project would create 25 new jobs and $1.5 million in the construction phase. Long term impacts would be 11 new jobs and $800,000 per year.

Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands chief planner Liz Petruska said the bridge project has been on the radar for many years, aligns with prior bureau recreational opportunities, builds on existing investments and could attract visitors from around the region. More than 300 miles of snowmobile trails are maintained throughout the state, she noted.


Petruska said the state would be responsible for the bridge long term.

“That’s a little bit of a change in attitude,” Selectman Matthew Smith said. “The last time we looked into this the state didn’t want anything to do with it.”

When asked about a time frame for a financial commitment from the town, West said the money needs to be committed at the time of application but need not be available then. Since the application seeks 40% from the federal government, no other federal funds can be used for the project with matches needed from local or state sources, he noted.

Funds from the Downtown Tax Increment Financing district were suggested as one potential source of funds. County funds were another.

The bridge would be a way to bring some vibrancy back after the closure of many local manufacturing facilities, Selectman Michael Fogg said. He supported the project but felt there were still too many unanswered questions.

The preliminary plans should be available Jan. 1, West said.


The issue was tabled until the Jan. 11 meeting.

How to spend the $819,814 in ARPA funds was also discussed but no decisions were made. The town has received a variety of proposals from area non-profits.

Determine the smaller needs to target an amount or percentage towards, Waller suggested. A bigger need is the broadband situation, he noted. Improving broadband locally would help with distance learning, plus attract workers and businesses, which could lead to their establishing residency, he added.

Repairs and improvements at the wastewater treatment facilities, replacing the community center roof and air system, and improving the ventilation systems at the town office building are other infrastructure options.

Mental health, public health aspects and the negative economic impact caused by the pandemic are approved uses of ARPA funds.

Providing premium pay for essential workers to offset some of their risk is another possibility.

Fogg said there were several excellent ideas mentioned and to keep a running list of them. The board should reach out to the community to see what they want the money spent on, he noted.

A special town meeting may be held just for this, Smith said, adding, “It will take a considerable amount of time.”

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