NORRIDGEWOCK — Voters spoke out Monday in favor of tearing down the town’s historic but unsafe concrete-arch bridge and keeping their water the way it is — without fluoride.
Referendum voting on three of the most controversial questions facing the town — including the bridge, fluoride in the water and an environmental-health-consultant fund — took place before the 7:30 p.m. meeting.
By a 299 to 49 vote, residents voted to replace the bridge and by almost as wide a margin — 248 to 92 — against putting fluoride in town water.
An article to put $20,000 aside for environmental testing was voted down by a much smaller margin, with 164 voting for it and 177 against.
Voting on the bridge was non-binding, but the lopsided results give selectmen the broadest measure yet of public sentiment on the issue.
Selectmen have repeatedly told the state they favor removing the bridge to make way for a new structure.
The bridge — built in 1928 and the last four-arch concrete bridge in the state — remains for many a treasured part of the town’s history. For others it is a relic which stands in the way of a safer replacement.
The 73-year-old structure is too narrow for modern trucks, and concrete chunks regularly fall off supports into the river. School and town officials have worried there is so little room on the bridge that children crossing on school buses are at risk.
A public advisory committee and a DOT group have both said the best location for a new bridge is the site of the old bridge. But under federal law, the DOT must prove there is no feasible alternative to removing the bridge before it can be demolished.
DOT officials have said the bridge might be rehabilitated for non-vehicular traffic. In that case, the town would likely bear the burden of maintaining it.
Selectmen have said they want a new bridge as quickly as possible and do not want the town saddled with maintenance costs.
The proposal for an Environmental Health Consultant Reserve Account was in response to health concerns caused by the release of gas from the Waste Management landfill in December.
Shortly before Christmas, residents complained of strong odors coming from the landfill. Some complained of headaches, nausea and respiratory problems caused by the gas.
When Waste Management said its tests indicated the gas was harmless, residents asked the town to fund a second test, but selectmen said they had no money in the budget for those tests.
The reserve account would have created a fund for future tests.
A measure to put fluoride in town water to reduce tooth decay was designed to counter what one local pediatrician said was a relatively high level of tooth decay in children.
A Norridgewock Water District official said the town’s water was pristine and cheap and would not be improved by fluoride.
After the polls closed for the referendum articles, about 65 residents galloped through a 76-article warrant in less than an hour and a half, voting on some spending articles in blocks of as many as 13.
They approved a town budget over 7 percent higher than the previous year. A capital road-improvements budget, up over 50 percent, was the main factor driving the increase.
The town plans to improve portions of Martin Stream Road and Winding Hill Road this year.
Without higher road-improvement costs, the municipal budget would rise about 1.5 percent.
Residents also returned four out of five members of the board of selectman — every incumbent running for another term.
Incumbent Rodney Thibodeau received 211 votes, Butch Bolduc, 208; Donald Nickerson, 193; and Elizabeth Lint, 183.
Victor Jepson won his first one-year term with 187 votes, beating out Bruce Obert with 178 votes, Herbert Libby, with 141, and Alphonso Dixon with 87.
The Board of Tax Assessors will also retain a familiar look, with voters returning all three incumbents. Lester Clark had 210 votes, Elizabeth Lint had 197, and Robert Gilcott had 187. Ronald Frederick narrowly lost his bid for a seat on the board with 181 votes.
Town Clerk Charlotte Gorman said turnout of 356 voters was about 100 more than average.
“It was a very good turnout. And considering what the weather was like last night, it was a good turnout for town meeting,” she said.