The Times Record recently ran a story on how the Friends of the Frank J Wood Bridge are suing the Maine Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, alleging that those agencies failed to follow federal law. 

Not at issue is who likes the bridge and who doesn’t, or whether the bridge is historic. The first point is immaterial and the second is a settled fact. The judge will pay attention to the integrity of our laws, not opinion. 

In the 1960s and the 1970s, the White House and Congress began to realize they must act to protect the nation’s amazing inventory of natural beauty, natural resources and man-made, historic landmarks. These valuable assets, owned by all of us, faced direct threats from short-sighted government policies and completely unrestrained development pressures. 

Congress saw the light in 1966. It passed, and President Johnson signed into law, two key provisions that remain directly relevant to our community: Section 4(f) of the Act creating the US Department of Transportation, and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. Not since President Theodore Roosevelt had the federal government displayed such remarkable foresight to protect the great gifts of this country. 

Since then additional federal laws have been passed to protect these resources for citizens to enjoy. Many local and state governments followed the lead of the federal government and recognized the wisdom of protecting these assets for future generations. As a result, sensible natural resource protection and historic preservation efforts have succeeded from coast to coast. 

Of course, the executive branch of all three government levels is charged not only with enforcing environmental protection and historic preservation laws, but also with actually obeying them. That is why we’re going to court. To ensure that MDOT and FHWA follow the law. 

Today, Brunswick and Topsham face a serious threat. Natural resources, including endangered fish species, and the long-protected historic environment crossing over the Androscoggin River, are directly in the crosshairs of MDOT and FHWA. Remember, your tax dollars fund what these agencies do. We pay them to enforce — and obey — our laws. 

Fifteen years ago, in 2004, MDOT and the Maine Historic Preservation Office concluded that it was feasible and prudent to preserve the Frank J Wood Bridge. They both signed off on a plan to preserve it. 

Then in 2016, for reasons that remain mysterious, MDOT decided to destroy our historic bridge, and replace it with something completely devoid of character. Worse, they proposed a new alignment that would curve it upriver toward the existing fish ladder and the dam. The new bridge would then reverse the curve back to where the historic Frank J. Wood Bridge now joins the shore. MDOT’s own reports acknowledge that the Frank J. Wood Bridge can be rehabilitated and continue to serve its intended function for another 75-plus years, but they are determined to destroy it and build the unnecessary new bridge. 

This scheme will negatively impact fish habitat and migration, and the historic environment of the river crossing. Our historic resources include The Bowdoin Mill in Topsham, Fort Andross in Brunswick, the Frank J. Wood Bridge and the historic neighborhood of Summer Street in Topsham. All of these are listed, or eligible to be listed, on the National Register of Historic Places. Because of these impacts, which MDOT freely acknowledges, they and FHWA must strictly follow procedures set in federal law. 

But they didn’t. You can download and read the lawsuit by visiting www.HistoricMistake.org. It is all there in black and white: Both agencies dodged the law, and it is for this reason the Friends of the Frank J Wood Bridge, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Historic Bridge Foundation are taking legal action in U.S. District Court. We have acted to protect the integrity of our local historic environment, and to protect our local natural resources. But the foundation of our lawsuit, and the only question on which the judge will rule, is the correct interpretation and application of U.S. law. 

Every year more than 100,000 visitors visit Topsham and Brunswick, stay in local hotels and motels, eat in local restaurants, browse in local shops and spend tens of millions of dollars. We are sure that the majority are fascinated by our history and natural resources, and by our environment that is so unlike what they see at home. Our history is important to them as it is to us. That’s why they come. 

If the judge decides that MDOT and FHWA — like the rest of us — have to obey the law, then our rich history will still be here for us and those tourists to visit and enjoy for many decades to come. Stay tuned. 

John Graham is a resident of Topsham and president of Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge. 

Comments are not available on this story.