Fate of Red Iron Bridge appears sealed

The Red Iron Bridge in North Fryeburg will be removed this year.

The Red Iron Bridge in North Fryeburg will be removed this year.

By Emily Butterfield

Contributing Writer

FRYEBURG — Despite the best efforts and pleas from townspeople, the Red Iron Bridge in North Fryeburg can’t be saved.

This fact was reiterated at the March 26 Fryeburg Board of Selectmen’s meeting.

At their March 19 meeting, Diane Jones and others asked selectmen for their help in saving the bridge any way they could. The Red Iron Bridge on McNeil Road in North Fryeburg was closed in 2013 due to concerns about its structural integrity and safety. That same year, voters overwhelmingly supported the state-funded removal of the bridge, as opposed to allocating $600,000 to repair it or $750,000 to replace it. Jones stated that taking the bridge out would be a public safety concern.

Saco Valley Fire Department Chief John Plowden said that the closing of the Red Iron Bridge has added three minutes to the response time when he and his men have to reach McNeil Road. He also called between Old River Road and Harbor road an “awkward intersection. There’s only room for one vehicle in either section and it’s very hard to see around.”

Selectman Paul Naughton said that their hands were tied, but they would try to see if anything could be done. He also noted that even though the bridge is closed, it still poses a public safety threat. “If someone were to ride their bike across that bridge and have the deck collapse catastrophically, the state would be responsible.”

“It sounds like the state is pulling the wool over our eyes with the condition of the bridge,” said North Fryeburg resident Justin Lipson, who also felt that there must be some ulterior motive to remove the bridge. “There’s no reason to take the bridge out.”

Town Manager Sharon Jackson gave a quick timeline of all the events starting in 2009 and ending with a summary from Joel Kitteredge who says the advertising for the bridge removal will start on May 27, 2015. “I sent out 201 support letters that were gathered from people from all around here, and those were sent to Washington.” Town Manager Jackson said that Maine Transportation Commissioner David Cole told Congressman Michael Michaud that the bridge was going to be removed and that that the state was not going to pay to keep the bridge.

“You’re asking us to overturn the majority vote of the town.” Naughton said of the 233 people that voted to remove the bridge. “I personally think without somebody with an extremely large check in hand going to the state and saying, ‘This is the money for the bridge,’ this is a fait accompli.”

On March 26, the board returned with the final verdict — the bridge is as good as gone. Bids will start on May 27, and removal is scheduled for July to September. “Transportation Commissioner (David) Bernhardt informed us that this project is moving forward and at this point in time there‘s not anything we can do to make it stop,” said Naughton. He also said that it fell on deaf ears once again from the state.

Town Manager Jackson made a point that when her and the commissioner spoke, he told her that the state budget only covered half of the cost of repairs for the bridges in their Bridge Report, which was another underlying issue. Many of the bridges being removed are ones that will prohibit any access across, i.e. ones that cross rivers like the Red Iron Bridge.

“I encourage people to do their own homework,” said Selectman Jeff Cox. “Because at the end of the day people hear what they want to hear in a way that potentially swings the pendulum their way.”

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