Someone looking for inspiration in our time of divisions would have been well served by being at an Aug. 21 meeting held at the Thornton Oaks community’s Merrymeeting Room. There, Brunswick Environmental Planner Ashley Charleson and Cumberland County Soil and Water District Engineer Chris Baldwin described an upcoming culvert replacement that began on Thornton Oaks grounds on Aug. 28.

“What’s the excitement over replacing a failing culvert that spans a walking trail and pinches the stream near Mare Brook’s headwaters?” you may wonder. The excitement is twofold.

First, it represents the initial project in a 10-year effort to improve the Mare Brook watershed’s water quality. That watershed includes much of Brunswick, and so it affects us all.

Second, The Thornton Oaks project offers a heartening collaborative, with the town of Brunswick being joined by Cumberland County’s Soil and Water District and Maine Department of Environmental Protection as designers and guides for the work. That work of taking out the culvert and replacing it with a stream-wide foot bridge will be done by Ray Labbe & Sons and a work crew from Thornton Oaks, with bridge materials being supplied by Hammond Lumber. The work crew from Thornton Oaks will donate their work, while both Labbe and Sons and Hammond Lumber are providing their resources at generous discounts.

The project’s cost is estimated at $8,000. Four thousand dollars of the funding for this project is provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under Section 319 of the Clean Water Act. That funding is administered by the Maine DEP in partnership with the EPA. The other half of the project’s costs will be covered by matches provided by the participants listed above.

The project was slated to begin on Aug. 28 with culvert removal and site prep, and should be completed by Sept. 1, when the new bridge will be opened.


It’s a small project, yes, but consider its symbolism. Not only is it a positive joining of many parties from national to local, but it also represents those parties’ commitment to the restoration of Brunswick’s central watershed. Mare Brook, whose 3,648-acre watershed lies within our town, has been declared “urban-impaired” by the EPA and Maine DEP, meaning it doesn’t meet required water-quality standards.

Yet even in its impaired state, this central waterway also supports brook trout in some stretches and sea-run trout near its mouth; it also provides a wild corridor for animal movement and offers the balm of shaded water moving under big trees. The brook and its tributaries are also crucial stormwater buffers and channels. In short, Mare Brook offers a lot to the town of Brunswick, and now the town and its allies are going to begin honoring those gifts by caring for the brook.

And then there is the brook’s destination, Casco Bay in Harpswell Cove, a shellfish-rich area that has seen some of it flats closed because of pollution flowing from this town brook.

A four-year planning effort by the Mare Brook Planning Committee, led by Cumberland County Soil and Water District and Brunswick’s Planning Department, recently brought forward the Watershed Management Plan, whose implementation will begin with the Thornton Oaks project. Brunswick’s Town Council unanimously approved that plan and appointed a steering committee to guide the plan’s work.

An observer sitting in the back of the Merrymeeting Room on Aug. 21 might have noticed the attendees leaning into the Charleson and Baldwin’s presentation. When Thornton Oaks Facilities Manager Tim May asked if anyone had questions, hands shot into the air. Those questions ranged from bridge construction details to location of the brook’s sources to project effects on animals. The response was uniformly positive, with residents pleased that their community was contributing to this first step toward cleaner, more vibrant waters in town.

Soon then, the rusted-out culvert that restricts flow near Mare Brook’s headwaters will be gone and in its place will be a bridge that crosses a free-flowing stream. Subsequent work downstream will begin next year.

Sandy Stott is the chairperson of Brunswick’s Conservation Commission, serves on the Mare Brook Steering Committee and writes Your Land, a monthly column in The Times Record.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.