SUMNER — With Chandler Bridge slated to be closed today and others in town continuing to deteriorate, residents and Sumner officials agree a bridge committee should be formed to examine the town’s 15 bridges.
Chandler Bridge – a wooden, metal and stone structure – is on River Road and spans the east branch of Nezinscot River. It was closed at the recommendation of the Maine Department of Transportation today, Thursday, June 1.
“We’re putting up Jersey barriers both sides and mark it [as closed],” said Sumner Road Commissioner Andy Wickson last week.
He said the bridge was built is 1913 and was redecked in 2006, but the superstructure was never replaced. He noted the abutments are the problem, as they are made of stone and the original ones.
“What has happened is the abutments have slowly deteriorated and they’re falling apart. … If the abutments don’t pass [inspection], then nothing else would pass,” Wickson said. “The tonnage has slowly gone down, down, down. Unfortunately from what I understand there have been some heavy trucks going over that we didn’t know about it – that takes a toll on the bridge.”
Benjamin Foster, assistant bridge maintenance engineer with the DOT, spoke about regular bridge inspections, including one for Chandler Bridge.
“We’re on the process of load rating all our bridges in our inventory. It came back not being able to handle at least 3 tons, which is the minimal,” he said. “That is why we made our recommendation for closure.”
Foster added within the last week or two it was discovered the bridge and roadway are an unmaintained easement, which means the state has no jurisdiction over them.
“The condition of the bridge did not get better but we can no longer force them to close it in order to enforce public safety,” Foster said. “It is in the hands of the town.”
Becky Durgin, who lives on River Road, but does not need to use Chandler Bridge to get in and out of town, said there are loggers working in the area regularly, along with people visiting camps.
She held a meeting with concerned residents at her house on May 7. Roughly 25 people attended to talk about the future of the bridge.
“It’s on a dirt road and it is very, very well used. It’s hunting, fishing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, biking, camping, kayaking, snowmobiling, ATVing … swimming – everything … people just use it,” she said.
Durgin added she has horses and gives sleigh rides over the bridge, which will have to stop come winter. But her horses and some others with horses who ride the road and the myriad of ATV and snowmobile trails in the area can ford the river.
“Losing this bridge is going to stop people from being able to go through there, which is a main route for ATVs, dirt bikes, … snowmobiles, whatever,” she said.
Durgin and Wickson said the local ATV and snowmobile clubs are looking into building a bridge for their vehicles to cross. Durgin said the clubs need permission from landowners to do so.
“It is sad about the ATVs and snowmobiles,” Wickson said, adding he understands why some people are not happy about the bridge closing.
“I am really trying to keep it open for everybody to use, not just one particular group,” Durgin said. “I am basically trying to fight for other people and the history of the place.”
There are 15 bridges in Sumner, five of which are maintained by the state and the other 10 that are the town’s responsibility.
The logistics of the bridge committee have not been figured out yet. Durgin wanted to form a private bridge committee where members could fundraise and decide which bridges could be fixed. Wickson and other town officials want the committee to fall under the auspices of the town.
“I told them I would help them but I am not going to be on the committee but I will help them as much as I can,” Wickson said about the bridge committee.
He thinks the committee should examine all the bridges in town and rate them for importance.
“We have to figure out from 1 to 10. Where does it stand [with] other bridges in town? Is it as important as another road that affects 30 homes year-round?” he asked.
Wickson also worried about taxes. A bridge was fixed on Tuell Hill Road two years ago. The town bonded for it, which raised taxes.
“Sure we could borrow $2 million and fix all the bridges in town but I can tell you you would have to move because your taxes are going to go through the roof,” he said. “You’ve got to figure out which ones are worst and figure out how you’re going to pay for them.”
The ATV and snowmobile clubs, along with the town, can apply for grants to help with such projects.
Durgin said Tuesday, May 30, she is leaning towards joining the town-run bridge committee since it is something she cares about.
A culvert on Redding Road is currently being replaced by a bridge, Wickson said, noting he and the town need to finish this project first. Part of this project was paid for by a $95,000 grant from the Department of Environmental Protection.
There is another bridge – River Road Bridge – on River Road that recently had its tonnage lowered to 10 tons.
“It’s in the same category [as Chandler Bridge]. Abutments are in good shape,” he said. “It is just a matter of years before it goes away.”
There are two other bridges in Sumner slated to be replaced the DOT in summer 2018. Heald Bridge is located on Redding Road and spans the west branch of the Nezinscott River. Fields Bridge is located on Gammon Road and spans the east branch of the Nezinscott River, which is the town line between Hartford and Sumner. There will be no cost to the local taxpayer for these bridge replacements.
In the meantime, Durgin promises to keep the issue front and center for town officials. She plans discuss the matter at the upcoming selectmen’s meeting slated for 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 13, at the Town Office, 633 Main St.