In honor of the late Robert Neault, members of the Naples community are looking to rename the Route 302 span along the causeway – known as the Naples Bay Bridge – in his memory.
State Rep. Christine Powers, a Democrat who represents Naples, Sebago, Baldwin, Cornish, Naples and part of Parsonsfield, said the idea to rename the bridge originated with members of the community who, following Neault’s unexpected death in November at age 56, wanted a way to honor his longtime dedication to the town.
Powers presented a bill for the bridge renaming before a Legislative council on Jan. 28. The council has since voted to allow consideration of the bill in the full Legislature. If the bill is approved, the Naples Bay Bridge would be renamed the Robert Neault Memorial Bridge.
As chairman of the Causeway Revitalization Committee, Neault played a pivotal role in the reconstruction of the Naples Bay Bridge, which carries traffic over the Chute River connecting Brandy Pond and Long Lake. He worked with a group of residents who provided feedback to the state during the construction project. It was one of the first times the state solicited feedback from the public before and during a construction project. In his role, Neault “really built bridges between people,” Powers said.
“He was so well-respected by so many members of the community,” said Powers, a resident of Naples who knew Neault for about 20 years. “He was a great person to bring in on divisive issues, to help find common ground.”
Kathy Sweet, who worked with Neault on the causeway revitalization, said Neault “had a lot of patience and that’s what we needed in a leader, someone trying to get everyone to agree.”
Anne Neault, Neault’s wife, said she and their three children – Liam, Katie and Dan Dunn – approve of the idea to rename the bridge.
“Bob himself might not think it was a great idea, because he was more of a behind-the-scenes kind of person, but the rest of us think it is a great idea because we felt he really put his heart and soul into it. We’re happy that the community feels that and wants to honor him in that way.”
As the former town manager of Naples, Derik Goodine worked closely with Neault to shepherd the causeway redesign. He said Neault “went above and beyond” in his work as chairman of the committee.
Goodine said that when the Maine Department of Transportation first discussed plans to renovate the causeway bridge in the late 2000s, two factions emerged concerning what should be done with the bridge. One group of residents supported saving the swinging bridge, which opened completely for boat traffic, and another wanted to get rid of it in favor of a fixed bridge. On this issue and others, Neault played a big role in reaching compromise among members of the committee and residents of the town.
While in discussions for repairing the bridge, the committee started to generate ideas for improving the causeway, as well, including wider sidewalks, a more attractive fence, benches along the perimeter, and a passageway underneath the bridge for watching boats.
Goodine said when he wanted to create a scenic lookout for photo opportunities with Mount Washington as a background, even when others said it wouldn’t be approved, “Bob helped push that through.”
“(Neault’s) kind demeanor made people feel safe and allowed them to dream on that committee and stand up and speak on what they’d like to see. They knew they’d be listened to and not shut down,” Goodine said.
Now, the causeway is a “modern place for tourism” that residents of the town can also enjoy and take pride in, Goodine said.
In working with the transportation department, Neault, who ran a law office in Naples, was “a great advocate for the town of Naples on so many levels,” Powers said. “He gave selflessly of his time and worked hard to make Naples a better place.”
Neault served the Naples community in numerous other capacities, including as a member of the Planning Board and as vice president of Crosswalk Community Outreach, a service organization that, among other projects, provides free food and clothing assistance to needy families around the Lakes Region.
Neault was a founding member of the Before and After Care program for school children in Naples and Casco, now based at the Singer Center, a community center he also helped to establish.
Sweet said you’d be hard-pressed to find something in Naples that Neault “wasn’t involved in in some positive way.
“Working with him was always a pleasure,” Sweet added. “I learned a lot from him and just admire his leadership qualities, the way he carried himself, and how much he cared about the community.”
Anne Neault said she was thankful to the town for its efforts to honor Neault’s memory “and for the compassion and love they’ve shown for the whole family. It’s nice to know he was thought of so highly.”
The late Robert Neault was one of the speakers during a celebration in 2012 at the opening of the redesigned Naples Causeway. Neault played the leading role on a committee that worked with the state on the project.