BERLIN — Plans to replace a failed culvert and reopen the end of Fisher Road that has been closed since late last summer have hit a speed bump that must be swiftly smoothed out in order for the $1.4 million project to be completed this year.
The Select Board was told Monday night the clock is ticking, time isn’t on their side and the biggest remaining obstacle involves an easement that will be needed to complete the project as designed.
It’s not that work could start tomorrow even if a signed easement from LaGue Inc. was in hand.
Under state law, work in rivers and streams can’t start until May 15.
However, it isn’t the May 15 date that has town officials a bit concerned. It is Oct. 15, because that’s when the work needs to be finished and if days turn into weeks and the easement remains unsigned, that might not be possible.
That is the shared view of Town Administrator Vince Conti and Zoning Administrator Tom Badowski who explained that due to the nature of the project, the construction window has started closing even though the project hasn’t been put out to bid and work can’t start for more than three weeks.
Easement or no, it won’t start then.
The pre-cast concrete structural components that will eventually be assembled into a 28-foot-long bridge-like arch require a 10-week lead time and they haven’t yet been ordered.
That isn’t all on LaGue Inc. because the state Agency of Transportation still needs to sign off on documents required by the state Infrastructure Bank, which is financing the project voters approved in March.
Badowski told board members the agency has signaled that sign off is coming soon, several weeks after providing a proposed easement to LaGue Inc. it’s status is uncertain.
According to Badowski, Chip LaGue said he liked the design of the project, but expressed some reservations about the language of the easement. Badowski said he invited LaGue to propose alternative language that would be acceptable and is still waiting to hear back.
Badowski said he had hoped to put the project out to bid by now, but was waiting for the green light from the state and the easement from LaGue.
“Those two items are delaying this project,” he said.
Given recent correspondence from the state, Conti said reaching an agreement with LaGue was a bigger concern.
“There is a risk of further delay if we don’t get through this easement fairly soon,” he said. “It’s already put us a little behind the eight-ball.”
Attempts to reach LaGue for comment were unsuccessful Tuesday.
Contacted Tuesday, Badowski said he remained hopeful an agreement with LaGue would be reached in time to allow the town to proceed with plans to replace the massive steel culvert with the rusted out bottom that is still funneling Pond Brook beneath an undermined section of Fisher Road.
Badowski explained the requested easement would be needed to accommodate the preferred design of the new concrete arch that would involve one of the downstream wing walls extending perhaps 15 feet onto LaGue Inc.’s property. An alternate design that Badowski said would work, but isn’t optimal, would shift the wing wall off property owned by LaGue Inc. However, he said even that scenario would require obtaining a temporary construction easement.
Badowski said if the structural components were ordered now — something the town is not yet ready to do — they wouldn’t be delivered until early July. That would provide a contractor who hasn’t been hired ample time to complete a project that doesn’t yet have a firm price tag.
However, Badowski said the time it will take to resolve some of that uncertainty will necessarily shrink the window on a project that will likely take at least two full months to complete and must be done by Oct. 15.
There is still time, but the town will need to decide how to proceed in the next 30 days if it wants to complete the project and reopen the road later this year.
“We need to get this resolved before we order that structure,” he said, noting the order, when placed, will trigger a 10-week wait.
The final design will be dictated by whether the town obtains the easement and must precede a bidding process that will take 30 to 45 days.
“At this stage, any delay pushes us closer to Oct. 15,” he said.
Though there are alternatives that avoid LaGue Inc.’s property entirely, Badowski said they would add significant project cost.
Voters authorized the town to borrow up to $1.4 million to finance the project based on an engineer’s upper end estimate.