The fate of the Red Iron Bridge

By Lisa Williams Ackley
Staff Writer

FRYEBURG HARBOR — People here are hoping that Governor John Baldacci will come through for them, in the eleventh hour, and step in to save the historic state-owned Red Iron Bridge at the end of McNeil Road, scheduled for removal by the Maine Department of Transportation later this fall.

Both Congressman Michael Michaud and State Senator Dave Hastings have promised they will ask Gov. Baldacci to intercede in the fate of the Red Iron Bridge, on behalf of concerned citizens here.

Senator Hastings said he called the governor’s office late last week and was still waiting for a response from Baldacci’s Chief of Staff, Jane Lincoln, on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Town Manager Sharon Jackson said she personally spoke to Congressman Michaud on Sept. 14 and he told her “he’s going to contact the Governor’s office and the (Maine Department of Transportation) Commissioner’s Office. He said he’ll get back to me,” Jackson said.

The selectmen also said they would seek legal counsel on what their options are, regarding the Red Iron Bridge.

Last week, the selectmen discussed the town’s options about the Red Iron Bridge, after a group of concerned citizens appeared before them Sept. 8 and pleaded with them to take any and all actions necessary, in order to spare the Red Iron Bridge from demolition. Some even said that they would chain themselves to the bridge, if the state comes to demolish it.

A visit earlier this year to the Red Iron Bridge by MDOT Commissioner David Cole, at the request of Sen. Hastings and town officials, did nothing to change the Department’s previous decision to remove the Red Iron Bridge and repair and maintain the Charles River Bridge located about a mile away.

So, the governor is now the only one — barring any legal action by town officials — who can overturn the decision by Commissioner Cole and his staff to remove the Red Iron Bridge.

“I think we have to try contacting the governor first, and if that doesn’t work, bring a lawsuit (against the state),” Selectmen Chairman Tom Klinepeter said.

One person suggested seeking a court injunction against the MDOT, in order to prevent the bridge from being removed in November.

“I’m concerned about the (November removal) time frame,” Selectman Rick Eastman said. “I think we need to initiate a stop order, and then that would give us some time to work the process. Other efforts haven’t worked, and we’ve got to stop it (the removal of the Red Iron Bridge).”

“I spoke with Jane Lincoln and explained that I believe and feel strongly that we really need the governor to make himself available to meet with a representative group from Fryeburg about the Red Iron Bridge,” Sen. Hastings said on Tuesday. “A lot of people who I have a great deal of respect for still feel that it was a very bad decision made by the state, and the only one who can delay the removal or rescind it is the governor. He’s the only one who can overrule the Commissioner, at this point. I’m waiting to hear from Jane, regarding an appointment with the governor. She told me she’d get back to me this week.”

“This is a state bridge, and I feel the people in town believe the state should maintain it, and that’s what people who live in Fryeburg Harbor believe, as well,” Sen. Hastings stated further. “I’m hoping the governor will be willing to listen to the people of Fryeburg and the Fryeburg Harbor area.”

Hastings also said that 12 days ago he submitted a bill he is proposing and placed it “in the hopper” at the Maine State Legislature that would “require the state to repair and maintain the Red Iron Bridge.”

“The Legislature can make the decision,” said Hastings, “but, it won’t be back in session until January. The bill can only have an impact — if the bridge is still there — in January.”

Peter Paolucci and the others who attended last week’s selectmen’s meeting said they believe the board needs to “demonstrate a greater sense of urgency and come up with something ‘radical’ to stop its removal. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Paolucci questioned the MDOT engineers’ assessment of the condition of the Red Iron Bridge and that it actually will cost as much as the state says it will to maintain it.

“People, including Coleman Concrete, have looked at the bridge and concluded that its condition is not that bad,” Paolucci told the selectmen. “The beams appear to be in sound condition. The center support seems to be in sound condition, but the state claims the river has scoured around the support foundation. The deck is in poor condition in the center and falling away beneath the bridge.”

“The state’s argument that the Red Iron Bridge is unsafe just is not very credible,” Paolucci said, “since it has been sending all heavy construction vehicles and fully loaded cement trucks over the bridge all summer long to complete the Charles River Bridge replacement project.”

The state’s rationale for not wanting to leave the Red Iron Bridge in place is not believable either, Paolucci said.

“The state is unwilling to do this, because of the ongoing maintenance costs associated with the bridge,” said Paolucci. “They estimate it will cost between $850,000 and $1 million over the next 50 years — or $20,000 per year — to maintain it. But, what has the state spent on maintaining this bridge over its life span, or even in the past 10 to 20 years?”

Please follow and like us: