Fryeburg to decide Red Iron’s fate

By Lisa Williams Ackley
Staff Writer

FRYEBURG — The townspeople of Fryeburg will get to have their say, as to the fate of the Red Iron Bridge, when and if the time comes.

Town officials, as well as the organizers of a grassroots campaign to save the Red Iron Bridge, were visibly thrilled, when they received word late last week that the Maine Department of Transportation is willing to enter into a memorandum of agreement with the Town of Fryeburg.

Maine Department of Transportation engineers had previously identified the Red Iron Bridge as unsafe and in need of being removed and not replaced.

The memorandum of agreement was worked out Feb. 24, during a meeting facilitated by State Senator Dave Hastings (R-Fryeburg) and attended by Hastings, MDOT’s Deputy Commissioner Bruce A. Van Note, Board of Selectmen Chairman Tom Klinepeter, Town Manager Sharon Jackson and Chip Getchell of MDOT. The agreement was announced at the selectmen’s meeting that evening.

What does the official memorandum of agreement with MDOT mean to the town?

“I’m pleased with the agreement we’ve come to with MDOT,” Town Manager Sharon Jackson said Feb. 28. “I think this way we can keep the bridge open — they’ll (MDOT) inspect it every year — and when and if the time comes to take it out, they’ll let us know, and they’ll get an estimate of the cost.”

“I’m glad they’re going to allow the town to make the decision whether we want to keep the bridge or not,” Chairman Klinepeter said. “You can’t ask for any better outcome than that — to leave it up to townspeople.”

Both Klinepeter and Sen. Hastings said that the memorandum of agreement reached with the town of Fryeburg would likely be used as a model by MDOT officials with other communities around the state. Hastings said there are approximately 2,500 other bridges in Maine that MDOT has identified as needing to be removed.

Sen. Hastings, who aided local residents in their fight to keep the Red Iron Bridge open, said Friday, “I’m just so pleased the bridge is not going to be taken out. The most important thing is the Red Iron Bridge is not going to be removed and will continue to stay in place for the rest of its natural life.”

Last year, DOT officials said the life expectancy of the Red Iron Bridge was less than one year. Now, said, Sen. Hastings, “They told us Feb. 24 that, Number One, they don’t know what the life of the bridge is — it could be seven or eight years — it could be longer. Nobody really knows. Also, last fall the chief (MDOT) engineer told us that when it does fail, it would not be catastrophic.”

Should the Red Iron Bridge need to be repaired in the future, MDOT would split the cost 50/50 with the town, under the memorandum of agreement.

Former selectman and current Fryeburg Historical Society president Diane Jones, one of the people who spearheaded the fight to save the Red Iron Bridge, said she is pleased that an agreement has been worked out with the state.

“I think it’s wonderful news,” Jones said Monday afternoon. “To me, it’s a good example of the state sitting down and listening. I told (former) MDOT Commissioner David Cole when he came here last year, ‘We don’t want to lose that bridge. We want you to meet us half way.’”

Jones praised Sen. Hastings and Town Manager Jackson, as well as Selectmen Klinepeter, Rick Eastman and Ed Wilkey for their cooperation and assistance.

Jones pointed out that the effort to save the Red Iron Bridge was launched on Facebook and in e-mails, as well as furthered in meetings held by the grassroots group.

“I think it’s a piece of our history that’s going to be saved,” Jones said. “It just took everybody to do it. The group effort was wonderful. It was a matter of keeping the pressure on (the MDOT) and getting people to join together.”

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