The future of the footbridge rides on a few decisions before a proposed project reaches voters, Boothbay Harbor selectmen learned Sept. 17. In 2018, Baker Design Consultants presented concepts which were revisited and scrapped by the public in January. The public opted for a design keeping as close to the original footbridge as possible.
The biggest decision will be determining if the town wants a footbridge at a higher elevation, for storm surges and rising sea levels, said Selectman Wendy Wolf. Firms may not want to commit to a project which does not fulfill Federal Emergency Management Agency base flood elevation standards and state and local standards.
“The current footbridge doesn't even meet our ordinance for the height to meet the elevation to storm surge and high tide,” said Wolf. “(So), how do we provide a refurbished bridge that meets all the safety requirements?”
Wolf said the footbridge would also have to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and town ordinances. After determining how it can meet those, people can then decide aesthetics, how to improve the swing-span’s function and how to maintain the footbridge’s character, Wolf added.
Former Lincoln County planner Bob Faunce said the bridge is well under flood plain level standards, with its lowest points at 8.8 feet and highest point at 9.6 feet. Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission’s flood impact study showed the highest annual tide at 6.69 feet; 10-year flood event, 8 feet; and 100-year flood event, 11 to 16 feet. The figures do not reflect any more height brought on by sea level rise, noted Faunce.
Despite the bridge not meeting ordinances, Faunce suggested selectmen and the planning board consider raising standards to three feet above the 100-year Base Flood Elevation (BFE), also taking into account sea level rise. Faunce suggested raising the bridge’s height for the new standards and installing more endcaps for structural integrity.
Said Faunce, “A two-foot increase over 50 years is just not a liberal assumption.”
Chair Mike Tomko said all information will be used toward the next steps and the first will be establishing a timeline. Town Manager Julia Latter said she would work on a schedule including requests for information, public information sessions, bridge design, request for proposals, and picking who does the work, for how much. Latter noted the Small Harbor Improvement Program (SHIP) grant – $250,000 – cannot go toward features not part of the application.