Guilford hears bridge complaints
GUILFORD -- On Monday night, Guilford officials hired an engineer, appointed an advisory committee, resolved to send a letter and issued an apology.
All of those actions were connected to Green River Covered Bridge, as the town seeks long-term solutions at that site while also dealing with short-term fallout from a repair project that has closed the bridge for about six weeks.
The latter issue is what brought a larger-than-usual number of residents to Monday's Selectboard meeting, as some complained that there had not been enough advance notice of the closure. Selectboard members said they have been dealing with fast-moving developments but also pledged better communication.
"We're doing what we can, and we're trying to push this along," Selectboard Chairman Dick Clark said. "But too many things happened at once."
The town-owned covered bridge, which is more than 140 years old, has been the center of attention lately in Guilford. And there has not been much good news for those who use the span regularly.
In early June, the Selectboard cut the bridge's load limit from eight tons to four tons after new findings by the Vermont Agency of Transportation raised concerns about the structure. At the same time, the Selectboard decided to postpone a rehabilitation project in order to seek more funding to replace the bridge's deck, which was a new recommendation from state inspectors.
There also has been talk about constructing a temporary bridge that might allow officials to divert traffic off the historic span. That would solve a dilemma for delivery drivers and emergency responders, as the covered bridge no longer can support such heavy vehicles.
On Monday, the Selectboard voted to hire Hoyle, Tanner & Associates Inc. to perform a feasibility study that will give the town a better idea of its bridge options at the site. The town will pay no more than $50,000 for the study.
The Manchester, N.H., -based company -- which already has been working with the town on covered-bridge issues -- will look at "the total package of what we need to do," Clark said.
Given complications including rights of way and wetland impacts associated with placement of a temporary bridge, "there are certain steps we have to go through before we can do anything," Clark said.
State Rep. Mike Hebert, a Vernon Republican who represents Guilford, listened in on Monday's discussion and endorsed the Selectboard's decision to pursue a bridge study.
"The board's taking all the proper steps to do this the way it should be done," Hebert said, adding that, in some cases, state permitting can take years before undertaking construction of a new bridge.
However, Hebert also acknowledged that, "If I lived on the other side of the river, I would want it to be a much quicker project."
That clearly was the sentiment of many who attended Monday's Selectboard meeting, which was moved to Broad Brook Grange to accommodate a larger crowd.
Those residents were thinking about current events more than feasibility studies: This week, the covered bridge closed for reinforcement of the span's wing walls, which are support structures for abutments.
The Selectboard earlier this month awarded the wing-wall contract to Welch Masonry in partnership with Zaluzny Excavating. Officials voted to spend up to $153,500 on the project, with a significant portion of that coming from state grant money that is about to expire.
"It's either, do it now or don't do it," Selectboard member Troy Revis said.
But the wing-wall work requires closure of the covered bridge to all traffic -- both vehicle and pedestrian -- for a significant stretch. Officials have said they expect the span to reopen for pedestrians Aug. 27, but drivers will have to stay off through Sept. 15.
The timing of the closure -- and the relatively late announcement last week -- upset some residents who now are facing significant daily detours.
"I knew a lot of people who knew the day before the bridge was going to be closing," said Mike Sullivan, who operates Vermont Slate Art and lives in the affected area.
Sullivan said the bridge's limitations have had major impacts, including the inability to receive package deliveries at his home.
"I pay taxes. Everyone pays the same taxes," he said. "Are we going to get a break? No."
The bridge closure has caused more headaches for Guilford Volunteer Fire Department, which already had sought enhanced mutual-aid assistance from firefighters in Halifax and in Leyden and Colrain, Mass., due to the bridge's lowered weight limit.
Closing the bridge forced further planning to reroute fire and medical responses, Guilford fire Chief Jared Bristol said.
"We did it. We always do," Bristol told the Selectboard. "But more communication would be a lot better."
That was a theme echoed by others including Carol Jaenson, who noted that not all residents are proficient with online communications.
"We are concerned about the lack of effective communication with those of us on this side of the river," Jaenson said after the meeting. "We need more-effective and more-timely communication."
Selectboard members said they had not known until very recently how long the bridge would be shut to all traffic for the wing-wall project.
"It was sort of a surprise to us also -- the timeline," Clark said.
Selectboard member Anne Rider issued an apology regarding the date of the bridge closure.
"We learned it late, and we informed you late, and for that, I'll say I'm sorry," Rider said.
She added that, "We'll do a better job moving forward. That's all we can do at this point."
Officials said they have been posting information on the town's website, www.guilfordvt.net, and have been e-mailing residents. But the Selectboard also voted on Monday to send out a letter by the end of this week that will include both a history of the covered-bridge projects and an anticipated timeline of upcoming projects.
Also, the board voted to establish an advisory committee to stay connected with residents regarding Green River Covered Bridge. Members include Clark; Town Administrator Katie Buckley, Dan Zumbruski, Guilford's road foreman and road commissioner; and resident Steven Lembke.
There was discussion among residents about getting together to create a temporary, pedestrian river crossing on private property. But Selectboard members said they could not endorse or participate in such a plan.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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