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Student Exhibit: The Great By-Pass

written by Jon Doty and Eric Axelman

image of South Channel Dam

This picture of the South Channel Dam shows an old wooden bridge on the left. In the background you can see the old Bloomfield Academy and there is a wooden mill where the Central Maine power station now stands.

We recently attended a public forum where the citizens of Skowhegan met with a member of the DOT (Department of Transportation) to discuss the proposed bridge and bypass.

The question that we asked at the meeting was... if the voters of Skowhegan turn down the proposed bypass at the upcoming referendum, can the government using eminent domain, still continue on with the project? This question made the speaker obviously uncomfortable, so he passed it on to another, and after pondering and talking around the question for a good half minute, a listener asked for a simple "yes" or "no", the answer was "yes".

We interviewed a member of the planning board, and an outraged citizen/ landowner,and a businessman to find their views on the building of this bypass,"or, as John Youney, town planner, likes to call it, the "second bridge." We discovered that the concept of the bypass has been discussed and researched for over seven years; and it has been deliberated by the planning board as to where it should be located.

image of Flood of 1929

In the background of this picture taken during the flood of 1929, you can see the old iron bridge. This has been replaced by the Margaret Chase Smith Bridge.

Mr. Youney says the most cost-effective way construct the bypass is to build it a little way down-river from the dam, just west of the picnic area heading east on Route 2. This would be just past the great eddy. This planning board member expressed how he felt the by-pass would be good for the town and how it will help Maine and her economy. He said "actually, the impact is incredibly small for the amount of roadway...something like fourteen houses get displaced." He added that the merchants would most likely get customers that have decided that they really want to buy something before going out to shop,not just those shopping while passing through.

image of South Channel Bridge

This is a picture of the South Channel bridge near the Dam.

After speaking to an "outraged citizen",who is also a landowner, the issue came up regarding, loss of property and fair market value. When property is taken by eminent domain, it will be reimbursed by fair market value, but fair market value doesn't account for sentimental values, or a good neighborhood in which to raise your kids, and fair, sometimes, "is in the eye of the beholder" to use a famous quote, meaning that what is fair to one, isn't fair to the other.

We also interviewed a business owner in town to try to understand the issue from his perspective. Walter Hight has a very strong, negative opinion of this bypass in Skowhegan.

"It will kill Skowhegan," stated Mr. Hight as I asked him just how the bypass would affect the businesses in town.

image of Toll House for Skowhegan Bridge

This is the house where tolls were collected from people crossing the bridge in Skowhegan. In 1809, the first two covered bridges over the Kennebec River in Skowhegan were built.
For 75 years, the builders were repaid by a man collecting tolls from anyone crossing the bridges. He collected them 24 hours a day and a fine had to be paid if someone didn't pay the toll. They used to herd sheep across the bridges also.

Mr. Walter Hight feels that the new bypass will destroy the economy of Skowhegan and thus ruin our downtown area. He pointed out that other towns that have been bypassed such as Gorham and Harmony now have only a few stores in the town area that are not chain businesses. These towns no longer have visitors passing through and stopping to shop. As a merchant, Mr. Hight does not want to see his business as well as other businesses, fail in our downtown area.

Our town once was a thriving part of the community but after stores were built up on Madison Avenue and in the malls, the downtown noticeably changed. It was no longer the place where people shopped at the AMP or the Woolworth's five and dime. There are still shops here, but many people go to Wal*Mart because it is cheaper and has everything they need combined in one store. At one time there were clothing stores, more than one hardware store, meat markets, food stores, and a variety of other stores with everything the people in the area needed. On a Friday night it was really alive with activity. The downtown is trying to get back to a center of community where people return to shop and meet on the street. The question is. would the bypass help this effort or would it help the downsliding?

So when you cast your vote at the non-binding referendum meeting, think about our town and how the bridge will affect it. Will it bring in more people who appreciate the historic downtown or will it cause people to go right around the town and ignore it altogether?

Jon Doty is a seventh graders and Eric Axelman is an eighth grader at Skowhegan Area Middle School.

 


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