September 18, 2020

Commissioners decide to use 1 road agent in UT

DOVER-FOXCROFT – As long as anyone in Piscataquis County government can remember, the road agents in the county’s Unorganized Territory were the very contractors who carried out the work plans.

The road agent, an unpaid position, would work with the commissioners and recommend projects, then that road agent likely would be the only person submitting a bid for the project.

The county has just under 70 miles of roads in the Unorganized Territory and spends more than $600,000 a year for road improvement projects.

“There was the perception of some issues there – conflict of interest issues,” County Manager Mike Henderson told Piscataquis County commissioners Tuesday.

To avoid that, Henderson recommended, and the commissioners agreed Tuesday, to replace the three road agents next year with a single road agent for the county’s Unorganized Territory.

The part-time road agent who does “not have a dog in the fight” would be paid a stipend, Henderson said. The same contractors used in the past will very likely be the ones who receive the project awards but they will be removed from the planning process, he said.

The move also is expected to improve the “very fragmented and unfocused way” roads in the Unorganized Territory are now addressed, according to commissioner Tom Lizotte.

Another proposal made by Henderson dealing with the same roads also was embraced by the commissioners. Henderson said it is very difficult to find specific information on some of the roads in the UTs. For example, some roads are closed to winter maintenance, and others are discontinued with certain conditions.

Henderson suggested that the county work with the University of Maine to find students willing to research all of the roads in the Unorganized Territory and enter that information onto a spreadsheet for instant access. While this would not be a legal document, it would provide enough information to answer questions posed to county office personnel, he said.

Henderson also recommended hiring a part-time person next year, preferably a retired Department of Transportation employee, to personally visit each of the roads. The person hired would take measurements, note road conditions, and identify any major features such as culverts and bridges and their conditions.

This information would prove valuable during the budget process, Henderson noted.

Commissioner Eric Ward of Greenville agreed. “This is long overdue,” he said Tuesday.

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