The Saco River is pictured from the RiverWalk pedestrian bridge in this July file photo. A law that will take effect next week will allow the RiverWalk to be cantilevered over a portion of the river, connecting the pedestrian bridge to a park that will be added to the former Maine Energy Recovery Company site.

The Saco River is pictured from the RiverWalk pedestrian bridge in this July file photo. A law that will take effect next week will allow the RiverWalk to be cantilevered over a portion of the river, connecting the pedestrian bridge to a park that will be added to the former Maine Energy Recovery Company site.

BIDDEFORD — A law that exempts walkways and trails located within a downtown revitalization project from the state’s current river setback requirements will take effect next week, allowing an extension of the RiverWalk.

The law will specifically allow for the RiverWalk to be cantilevered over a stretch of the Saco River, connecting the pedestrian bridge that links Biddeford and Saco to a park that will be added to the former Maine Energy Recovery Company site. Sen. David Dutremble, D-Biddeford, who sponsored the bill, told the Journal Tribune in March that an exemption to the state’s shoreland zoning laws was the only way the RiverWalk could be extended in that area, where mill buildings edge the river.

“This small change will have a major impact on Biddeford and Saco as they continue to develop the downtown economy and invest in a walkway and footbridge to connect the two communities,” Dutremble said in a statement released by the Maine Senate Democratic Office on Wednesday.

John Bubier, who served as Biddeford’s city manager for 10 years and now works in economic development, said Thursday that the owners of the mill buildings from which the RiverWalk will be cantilevered over the river are supportive of the project.

Daniel Stevenson, the city’s economic and community development director, said in an email Thursday that the city will seek mul- tiple funding sources for the project, including state and federal bonds and grants. Tax increment financing will also be used to fund the project, he said.

But while city officials are optimistic about moving forward with the cantilevered portion of the RiverWalk, another planned extension of the trail has been stalled by Gov. Paul LePage’s decision to withhold $2 million in bonds from Land for Maine’s Future, a program that distributes voter-approved bond funds to conservation and recreation projects throughout the state.

The Associated Press reported last month that LePage said he would authorize the bonds if lawmakers agreed to use proceeds from logging on state land to help low-income Mainers upgrade their home heating systems. Democratic leaders rejected the proposal, according to the AP.

LePage’s decision to freeze the LMF funds affects 30 projects throughout the state, including the RiverWalk.

Bubier said the city planned to use the money from LMF to extend the RiverWalk in Mechanics Park. “We’re very disappointed,” he said. “This would just close the loop and give much better public access around the urban center.”

In a letter titled “Biddeford needs LePage to be a partner, not a roadblock” and published in the Journal Tribune on Tuesday, Dutremble criticized the governor’s decision to withhold the money.

“(LePage is) holding the bonds hostage because a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers opposed his plan to increase private harvesting of trees on public land – an issue completely unrelated to Land for Maine’s Future,” wrote Dutremble. “I urge Gov. LePage to release the voter-approved bonds immediately, so that our RiverWalk and the other important conservation projects around the state can get back on track.”

— Staff Writer Angelo J. Verzoni can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]


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