It’s Wintertime! Gravel Road Planning.

It’s hard for me to believe it’s winter up here on the mountain already, when, down on my flatland farm in Auburn, I was precisely 2 days ago harvesting the last of the beets and carrots out of a moist black cold-but-not-frozen soil bed. But it is. Old man winter sweeps through the mountains first, and I can’t help but feel overwhelmed looking at the spindly bare hardwood twigs everywhere buffering the frost-covered ground from the mountainous horizon and blue skies. There is so much to be done and it is hard for me to see my way to timely start to the 2020 construction season. But, “In our Gannt Chart We Trust.” We can do this, right?? I said right????[crickets…]

Hard as it may be to believe for those unfamiliar with larger development projects, we are already pushing the timeline to begin construction next summer, by not yet having officially submitted our DEP site law application. Maine’s Site Law of Development Act, or ‘SLODA’ as all the civil engineering guys call it, is the heaviest hand of environmental law, and is invoked only for specific reasons. One of those reasons is a project creating more than 3 acres of impervious surface. Did you know that gravel road is considered impervious surface? I didn’t until recently, because I thought of gravel as something water can trickle through. But when compacted into a road it generally does not drain, but rather sheds the water in sheet form off the side of the road, potentially sending emissions residues, small soil particles, and other contaminants with it. If not then rerouted with ditches and culverts properly into vegetative or other buffers to be screened and filtered before ultimately hitting lakes and streams, it is a major source of water pollution. Thus, gravel roads are highly regulated and a general bain of DEP’s existence. Of course, paved roads create most of the very same issues and others as well, but proper gravel road construction and maintenance turns out to be a more insidious enemy of the environment because it looks, sounds, and feels so crunchy and friendly, that people often do not realize the erosion and pollution issues it can pose.

One of the better sections of the existing gravel road, Elwell Mountain, taken 9/30/19.

Since we are striving to create a very environmentally green and low-impact project, then, it will need to pay a lot of attention to the roughly 3 miles of gravel roads needed to bring the project into reality. About 80% of the roads we need already exist as [fairly degraded] logging roads. The good news is, any efforts we put into the roads at this point will be an improvement. The way the roads sat when we bought the property last month was pretty bad. We’ll dig drainage ditches, screen gravel, fix culverts, crown and grade the road, and do everything we can to make a high-quality, low-impact road. But the Site Law application is, to say the least, daunting. The process takes about 6 mos. and the permit application itself, alone, is about $10K, never mind the tens of thousands it takes to hire the engineers and development consultants to actually obtain the scientific, soils, wetland, and other information it takes to get it through. Meanwhile, construction can’t begin without that permit.

There are whole organizations dedicated to understanding Gravel Road challenges. One of them, “The Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies,” puts out this program.

So we’re working hard to make it happen. We’ve almost finished lining up a development consultant and are generally on track in our timeline for other steps as well. Until then, at least we can remember why we bother with any of this, and enjoy a little time in the snow with the kids on Sundays! We’ve developed a new rhythm to increase efficiency, as the kids and I proved too distracting for Daddy when we all just went up together for the whole weekend. So now Dad works at HQ on Saturdays, while Mom and the munchkins do farm and household chores in Auburn. Then we come up Saturday night with dinner, sleepover, and enjoy a family day together on Sun with no work. Much more efficient and ends with less 4-letter words and frustration. 🙂 We’ve got our season passes to Mount Abram in my email inbox, and have decided this year is the year we teach them to ski and ride. So for now, some practice in the backyard at Mission HQ!

Rhiordan testing out his adorable little Fischers on Sunday 11/24/19
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