GUILFORD -- As it turns out, it is no simple task to come up with a plan for bypassing Guilford's Green River Covered Bridge.
So Guilford Selectboard members, while still moving forward with plans to reinforce the historic wooden span, have decided to spend up to $50,000 on an engineer who can study alternatives including construction of a temporary bridge.
Such a bridge would allow officials to pull traffic off the covered bridge, which has a drastically decreased load limit due to structural concerns.
"It became clear that what we really need to do is contract with an engineer to get a feasibility study so that we can look in a really methodical, rational way at all the alternatives and move forward as quickly as possible," Selectboard member Anne Rider said.
It has been an eventful year for the Green River Covered Bridge, which is more than 140 years old. In early June, officials cut the load limit from eight tons to four tons after new findings by the state Agency of Transportation raised concerns about the structure.
Simultaneously, Selectboard members postponed a rehabilitation project so that they could seek more funding to replace the covered bridge's deck -- a job that had not been part of the rehab plan.
The developments have prompted re-evaluation of the covered bridge's future as a key river crossing, and it has revived talk of constructing a new, temporary bridge that could better handle heavy trucks and emergency vehicles.
Planning for that project, however, will present obstacles including wetland impacts and right-of-way acquisition. So Guilford officials, after making preliminary inquiries with VTrans, now believe they need a professional consultant.
"Every alternative has significant complications," Rider said. "It just felt like we were going in circles without getting a real feasibility study that laid all the alternatives out and gave us a clear road map."
Selectboard members on Monday night approved spending up to $50,000 on such a study. It is an unbudgeted expense, but officials said federal disaster money still arriving from the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 is expected to ease the financial burden.
"With FEMA money still due to the town, some of that money will go to this study," Selectboard Chairman Dick Clark said.
Due to time constraints, Selectboard members say they will bypass the formal bidding process and contact several engineering firms directly to determine who can perform the study for the least amount of money.
"We need this done as soon as possible," Rider said.
The study will lay out options for a temporary bridge and also will take the current bridge into account.
"Think of it as an alternatives analysis, to rule out all alternatives and arrive upon the one that's the best," Town Administrator Katie Buckley said.
There were several other developments Monday in connection with the Green River Covered Bridge:
-- Efforts to preserve the covered bridge continue, as evidenced by Monday's vote to spend up to $153,500 on a project to reinforce the span's wing walls, which are support structures for abutments.
The project, which is mostly state-funded, was awarded to Welch Masonry in partnership with Zaluzny Excavating.
"It's been something we've looked at for years," Clark said, adding that Irene's flooding exacerbated the wing walls' condition.
The wing wall project is expected to begin this summer, and that will mean further traffic disruption: Officials on Monday disclosed that the work will shut the bridge for a significant time period.
Specific dates have not yet been set. Buckley said those dates will be announced, and she expects to mail information to affected residents.
-- The Selectboard also announced a July 23 meeting regarding Green River Covered Bridge.
No decisions will be made at the 1 p.m. session, which begins at the town office. Rather, Buckley said the idea is to bring together officials to share information: VTrans administrators and state Rep. Mike Hebert, a Vernon Republican who represents Guilford, are among those expected to attend.
-- Resident Steven Lembke said he expects to form a citizens advisory group to both inform residents about covered bridge news and to offer residents' opinions on the matter to the Selectboard.
"I think there's a need for it," Lembke said.
Selectboard members agreed, and Buckley added that the upcoming feasibility study will include public outreach.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.