By Eric Francis
Bridges were the largest single items that most towns lost during the flooding brought by Hurricane Irene and, depending on where you live, the lack of some of those bridges is also going to be the storm’s longest-lingering disruption.
In West Woodstock the sparsely elegant Holt iron bridge, which allowed cyclists and pedestrians to cross the Ottauquechee River, is a tangled mess lying against an embankment.
The beloved Taftsville covered bridge survived with some minor damage but will now remained closed to allow for a previously scheduled refurbishment that will take until 2013 to complete.
Further down the Ottauquechee River, the guess now is that repairs to the Quechee covered bridge will also keep it out of service until toward the end of the 2013 construction season.
Unlike Taftsville, which has the original 175-year-old historically significant structure, the Quechee covered bridge is only four decades old. It’s really a “simulation” – a pretty shell built over a modern steel highway bridge – but it sets the tone for Quechee’s downtown and residents are anxious to get it back.
The preliminary engineering survey has indicated that the structure of the Quechee bridge itself is largely intact but, Hartford Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg explained, “The retaining walls and approaches on either side need to be completely rebuilt.”
As long as all that has to be done anyway, Rieseberg said the smart thing may be to go ahead and raise the town-owned bridge up a few more feet in order to prevent another wipeout in the future; however, that would necessitate topographic changes to the road approach coming down Waterman Hill and almost certainly run the project out through the next two construction seasons.
In West Windsor, all of the town’s bridges are now back in service with the exception of the scenic little Bowers covered bridge which is now sitting on Paul Biebel’s lawn about 300 yards downstream from where it belongs.
“There’s talk about being able to save that bridge,” noted West Windsor Highway Foreman Mike Spackman, adding, “I think it’s salvageable.”
With the help of a half-dozen local contractors, Spackman and his two-person town road crew, “busted our butts” and got all of West Windsor’s roads back to passable condition within 24 hours of Irene. When the weekend came the selectboard ordered the crew to finally take a well-deserved break, saying “We don’t want to see you,”; however, Spackman said he snuck down to the fire station anyway on Saturday morning and “resurrected the bent-over flagpole” because it was bugging him.
In Barnard few houses sustained water damage, and there is only one bridge gone but it’s an important one — a nameless state highway bridge right on Route 12 by Ward’s at the end of Town Garage Road that is totally out. “I’ve heard they are bringing a temporary bridge in there but it hasn’t happened yet,” Barnard Fire Chief Scott Mills said.
“They did an excellent job and had the roads pretty much passable within a couple or three days but now they are just shaking them up and making them looking a little nicer than they were originally,” Mills said, noting, “We had a lot of road damage but we didn’t have much structural damage.”
Hartland also lost only one bridge, the Barron Hill Bridge off Route 12 near the Auto Barn. “It had a steel culvert but it wasn’t big enough,” Hartland Town Clerk Clyde Jenne said.
In Plymouth, Highway Foreman Larry Lynds said of the rapidly evolving transportation situation the past week-and-a-half, “I have some choice words for it but you don’t want to hear ‘em.” Lynds did say that he and his two-person crew are now “doing fine” with only a few small bridges still out across the mountains. The big problem within Plymouth is still Route 100, where a deputy sheriff described the situation south a mile south of Route 100 near Hawk Mountain as “The Plymouth Gorge,” with the highway completely severed and 20-acres of boulders strewn out across nearby fields. Back in Plymouth proper and the Notch, Lynds said things are now passable but he added, “It’s pretty much four-wheel drive.”
In Reading, Selectboard Chairman Bob Allen reports that two bridges are still completely out of service.
“These were span structures with foundations on each side. One of them will probably remain out through the winter since it’s not a critical item. It’s a little small bridge that is on Park Circle in South Reading but there is a good alternate road and it could be improved and made the road for that area and we could eliminate the need for a bridge but that’s just me talking at this point and time,” Allen said, noting, “We have not discussed it as a board of selectmen. It will be a fix for 2012 at best.”
The other bridge services the Bill Hunt property on Archer Road. “I’m still trying to get some people in to look at what we can do for a temporary structure there,” Allen said, adding, “It’s not going to be cheap.”
“All of our roads and bridges in Pomfret are open. They are not fancy, but they are open,” Selectman Neil Lamson said Wednesday. “At the present time we have about twenty individuals working full-time on restoring our roads. We had some bridges and culverts out but they have all been restored back at least to a usable state. You may encounter some ‘Road Closed’ signs here and there but that means the guys have temporary closed the traffic off so they can get the work done.” Lamson added, “We are fortunate in Pomfret that (selectboard chairman) Bobby Harrington is a licensed engineer so he knows what needs to be done and he has a very good working relationship with the state folks. He was confident that he knew how to fix the roads, so we had an engineer on site and we went at it on Day One. That’s what saved us.”
In Bridgewater, where the North Branch of the Ottauquechee River flows through the Chateauguay section of town several small bridges are still out but Bridgewater Fire Chief Bruce Maxham said emergency vehicles now have access to all but one residence up there and in that case, “He’s pretty self-sufficient.”
“We lost about four houses completely and many more were damaged. There were two destroyed on Route 100A and two on Route 4 between the Corners and West Bridgewater,” Maxham reported. “The Long Trail Brewery is back in business. They’ve been taking care of all the volunteers with free meals. They’ve been great,” Maxham noted; however, he said right in Bridgewater Village the fire station took a small amount of water downstairs.
This article was first published on September 9th edition of the Vermont Standard.
By Eric Francis