Route 16 reconstruction at critical stage

By Barbara Tetreault

BERLIN — The Route 16 reconstruction enters a critical phase as Sargent Corporation faces a tight schedule to get the section of roadway at Brown Elementary School finished before school starts on Aug. 30.

“A lot has been going on,” Jay Poulin of HEB Engineers told the city council Monday night as he provided an update on the project.

Since he last met with the council in June, Poulin said concrete sidewalks have been installed from St. Anne Church to Maple Street, new drainage has been installed and new gravel put in from Maple Street to Eight Street, and the base paving has been completed and new curbing installed from Eighth Street to Twelfth Street.

By the end of this week, Poulin said all of the drainage work should be complete. He said that will be a big milestone for the project, meaning that all the subsurface work is done. The only exception is the Twelfth Street intersection.

The city had specified that all the work around Brown School (Route 16 from Seventh Street to Eighth Street) had to take place while school was not in session. Poulin said the schedule is tight but Sargent should meet that deadline. He said base paving will take place Aug.14-15, curbing will be installed Aug. 21 and 22, and sidewalks will go in Aug. 24-25.

The Twelfth Street intersection improvements are scheduled to begin Aug. 16 and will take about three weeks to complete. Traffic will remain open but drivers should expect it will be congested. Berlin police will assist with traffic control and truck traffic will be detoured to the East Milan Road.

The final layer of pavement on the entire section from St. Anne Church to Twelfth Street is currently scheduled for the last week of September. Poulin said that is the last item except for the street markings.

So far, Poulin said the project is on budget. He said his firm has been able to modify design details to offset any increases as a result of change orders. Within two weeks, he said he will be able to provide the city with an updated cost estimate that should indicated whether the project will end with a surplus.

In other news:

The council reviewed a list of six potential projects it could undertake with the $203,779 the city received under Senate Bill 38. The state returned $30 million in surplus funds to local municipalities for road improvements. City Manager James Wheeler said his recommendation is to use the money to replace street lights with energy efficient LEDs. The project would cost an estimated $300,000 but is expected to save the city $60,000 annually. Wheeler said use of the SB 38 money would allow the city to pay off the project cost almost four years sooner, generating $228,000 in savings.

Other options include improving the intersection at Bridge and Hutchins Streets with a price tag of $332,000, $171,000 as a match for the river walk funds, improvements to Glen Avenue entrance, purchase of a grinder for Public Works to develop a reconstruction program for residential streets, lighting on Hutchins Street, and paving some miscellaneous streets.

Mayor Paul Grenier said he was under the impression the city could use the $250,000 Northern Border Regional Commission grant as a match for the $668,000 federal Transportation Alternatives Program grant for the river walk project.

Community Development Director Pamela Laflamme said the state Department of Transportation said the match has to be in hard dollars and not in in-kind services. Grenier asked Laflamme to set up a meeting with DOT officials and said he will invite Executive Councilor Joseph Kenney to join city staff in meeting with DOT over the issue.

The council agreed to study the options.

Community Development Director Pamela Laflamme discussed the planning board’s proposal to amend the city’s zoning ordinance to allow large-scale commercial solar farms in industrial business zones as a permitted use and in rural residential and the Jericho Gateway zones as a permitted use by special exception.

Laflamme said there has been interest in the past in such solar farms but the zoning ordinance does not allow them. With no project before the city, she said this is a good time to address the issue and be prepared should a proposal be presented.

The council expressed concern about allowing such solar farms in the Jericho Gateway zone, noting the city has worked hard to promote recreational-based development there.

Grenier said he was worried that unlike solar turbines, which are high and allow for ATV ands snowmobile trails, solar farms are low and could limit recreational trail development. Councilor Mike Rozek said he thinks some of the city’s old landfill sites, like Dummer yard and the bulky waste landfill on Cates Hill, would be ideal sites for such facilities.

Grenier suggested setting up a joint meeting with a small number of representatives of both the council and planning board to discuss the matter further. Councilors Peter Higbee and Lucie Remillard agreed to join Grenier in meeting with some planning board members. Remilllard represents the council on the planning board.

Wheeler announced that Public Works Director Michael Perreault has informed the city he will retire next July. Perreault has served as public works director since 2008. Prior to joining city staff, he worked at Fraser Papers and before that was a mechanical and maintenance project manager with Pizzagalli Construction Company for six years.

Jeffrey O’Neil as been hired as an operator at the wastewater treatment plant and Heidi Gray is a new account clerk in the finance department.