Worries the Naples referendum question on replacing the Causeway bridge was poorly worded seem unfounded after Tuesday’s vote. But those in favor of keeping a swing bridge should still worry about their opinions holding water with the state.

The non-binding question asked voters to choose between a swinging bridge or a state-approved fixed bridge over the Chute River connecting Long Lake and Brandy Pond. A swinging bridge would move to allow all boats to pass. The proposed fixed bridge would be high enough to allow 85 to 90 percent of boat traffic to pass.

The choice of a swing bridge came with the caveat that construction costs that exceed $11 million would be paid by local taxpayers. Those choosing a 12-foot-high fixed span knew it would be “decorative” and come with a repaired seawall on the Causeway and new street lighting. The first choice was endorsed by a 484-339 vote.

The vote reaffirms the local view that allowing all boats from a skiff to the Songo River Queen access to the lake and pond is in the best interests of the town, no matter what else could be promised to stabilize or beautify the Causeway.

Members of the Committee to Save the Bridge and Barbara Clark, executive director of the Sebago Lake Chamber of Commerce, called the referendum poorly worded in that it represented a false choice about funding, which they said should all come from the state.

As late as the day before the election, there were residents asking the Naples Selectboard to remove the question from the ballot. That was not going to happen, but even for a non-binding referendum, the wording was poor.

The false choice, in fact, is that state money used to beautify the Causeway approach to a bridge that would block 10 to 15 percent of boat traffic in the area would benefit the town if fewer people are coming to town.

Naples is a draw for visitors who count on traversing the water from Harrison on Long Lake to the shores of Sebago Lake. No amount of street improvements can replace the loss of local slips used by owners of sailboats with masts that would not fit under a fixed bridge.

State officials are not in favor of replacing the current bridge without raising the bridge, fearing the lifespan of the bridge is too short to justify a cost estimated to be $8 million, the same as the cost of a fixed 12-foot bridge.

But the choice falls between the cost of a fixed bridge at $8 million, including work on the Causeway, and the $14.5 million to $18 million for the swing bridge without the need to elevate the roadway.

The current bridge is more than 50 years old. Is it so improbable to believe the same life span could not be achieved by refurbishing the bridge using money spent to raise the road or buy lampposts or fencing as the state plan for a fixed bridge proposes? How about for the $11 million listed in the first choice?

At the same time, the policy of opening the bridge every two hours for boat traffic could be reexamined, saving money on wear and tear with fewer bridge openings and reducing emissions from vehicles waiting to cross the river.

With the ambiguity of the question removed, the hope is that the state will see clearly what a swinging bridge means to Naples and surrounding towns.

David Harry, editor

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