An artist’s rendering shows a proposed riverside deck on Water Street in Augusta. The recreational area could be built if the city receives a $4 million federal grant for which it has applied. The grant could also fund changes to Front Street to help protect against flooding. Courtesy of City of Augusta

AUGUSTA — A $4 million grant proposal that Augusta officials have submitted for a project they hope would encourage riverfront development, draw more people to the downtown area and reduce flooding is caught up in the ongoing federal budget stalemate.

Earlier this year, the city applied for congressionally directed spending to raise the level of the riverfront Front Street parking lot by about 4 feet, which would be enough to reduce by half the number of times it floods, officials said.

The project includes plans to move the right of way for Front Street away from its current location up against the rear entrances to numerous buildings that sit between Front and Water streets, which would open that area to potential retail space.

The path of Front Street would be moved away from the buildings and toward the center of the parking lot. And the parking lot would be improved with hardscaping and inclusion of an area where food trucks could park for special events on the waterfront.

The project would also add an observation deck to a vacant, city-owned lot on the river side of Water Street, extending toward Front Street. Pedestrians would be able to access the deck from Water Street and sit and watch the water or take in views of Fort Western across the Kennebec River.

Last week’s discussion about the proposal was prompted in part by December flooding that inundated the city’s downtown area and has some business and building owners still recovering from the damage.


“Weeks ago, we experienced why Front Street is important for us to turn our attention to, but there is also a lot of economic opportunity that has been identified on Front Street,” Matt Nazar, director of development services for the city, told city councilors Jan. 11.

But Nazar and others stress that the proposal would not have prevented the recent flooding or other major flooding events.

“It won’t protect against floods like we had a couple of weeks ago,” Nazar said. “This would raise the elevation to about 14 feet above sea level. A 100-year flood is about 33 feet above. In 1987, the water was a good 19 feet above the parking lot.”

In a letter to U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, in support of the project, Mayor Mark O’Brien said the proposed resiliency project would raise the street and parking area enough to reduce by half the instances of flooding — from an annual event to once every two to three years.

An artist’s rendering shows proposed changes to the Front Street parking lot in Augusta. Courtesy of City of Augusta

With a congressional budget stalemate holding up the proposed federal budget for the current year, funding for the project is held up with all the other federal funding priorities.

Keith Luke, Augusta’s economic development director, said it could be a few days — or several weeks — before the federal budget is approved. He said with previous grants, the city has heard by this time of year whether it would receive funding. He said the current proposal is probably about four months behind the timeframe of other projects funded by federal grants.


It remains unclear if the project will win federal funding.

Luke said the three lawmakers who represent Augusta in Congress — Democratic Rep. Jared Golden, Republican Sen. Susan Collins and King, an independent — have expressed support for the proposal and notified the city they would include the project among the few they would put forward for funding.

Luke said the last time the city received such assurances and received the support of the entire delegation, the projects were awarded funding.

City councilors warned against counting on federal funding of the project prematurely.

An artist’s rendering shows proposed changes to the flow of traffic near Front Street in Augusta. Courtesy of City of Augusta

“This has not been appropriated yet,” Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind said. “At this point, we have the endorsement of our congressional delegation. But I want people to understand: We don’t have the money in the bank. We’re waiting for that process to grind out.”

The proposed project would not bury the utility lines in the area, which are strung between poles and buildings and have been described as unsightly.

“We’re trying to create something that’s purposeful, that’s beautiful,” Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Judkins said. “It just feels like those power lines are really flying in the face of that.”

Nazar said moving the power lines — perhaps under the Water Street sidewalk — is possible, but would be extremely expensive.

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