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Dummerston’s green iron bridge reopens

DUMMERSTON—The news over the past two weeks has been dominated by news of closed bridges.

But there’s one bridge in Windham County this week that bucks the trend.

Without fanfare, the green iron bridge over the West River has reopened after years of repair work.

Selectboard Chair Tom Bodett said last Wednesday that while state inspectors haven’t officially signed off yet, the span is open for traffic.

“Although not ‘officially’ opened, it is ‘open open,’ meaning you can drive across it, which I did today with great relish,” he said.

The bridge, built in 1892, was to have reopened late last September, but workers found some unexpected rust in some of the upper support members of the bridge that wasn’t part of the original state repair specifications.

The state appropriated $3.2 million in 2009 to restore the span.

Renaud Brothers of Vernon, the main contractor since work began last year, had to replace the rusty support members before the state would allow the bridge to be reopened to traffic.

Work had been expected to be finished in June, but it took until the end of August to finally wrap up the project.

The iron bridge is one of Dummerston’s two bridges over the West River. Unlike the Covered Bridge and most other bridges in Dummerston, which the town owns, the iron bridge belongs to the state.

Renaud Brothers replaced about half of the steel in the bridge along with about 13,000 wrought iron rivets, according to Dummerston resident Roger Turner, who has been reporting on the project for the town newsletter, Views of Dummerston.

Workers then sandblasted all the old lead paint and put on a new coat of the bridge’s trademark green paint. Finally, they put up new guardrails and rebuilt the approaches to the bridge on Route 30 and Quarry Road.

The grated iron deck on the bridge remains, and it retains its 10-ton weight limit.

Covered bridge repairs

It’s been a long time since Dummerston has had two functioning bridges, but that status will again be disrupted next summer, said Bodett, because repairs to the wing walls supporting the approaches to West Dummerston Covered Bridge are urgently needed.

During repairs to the covered bridge deck in 2009, Bodett said, workers found that the wing walls were badly deteriorated and in need of an estimated $280,000 in urgent repairs.

Bodett said that despite their deteriorated state, the wing walls survived the flooding from Tropical Storm Irene on Aug. 28.

“They were submerged for a time, but appear to be unscathed,” he said.

“I may have contributed to the perception by saying to many people that my biggest fear that day was for the wing walls, knowing they were not 100 percent,” he acknowledged. “In any case, no new worries there.”

Bodett said the town has applied for and received a $200,000 federal Transportation Enhancement Grant. The remainder of the money will come from the town’s West River Crossing Fund, a reserve fund the town has kept for just such purposes.

The holdup, he said, was that the Vermont Agency of Transportation still has not vetted the town’s design of the project.

“I don’t expect [AOT] to pick up their pace in light of the flood damage they’re chasing down all over the state,” Bodett said. “At this point, I think we will consider ourselves fortunate to put the work out to bid in the spring.”

In that scenario, work on the Covered Bridge would take place in the summer of 2012. “Better to do it when the schools are closed, anyway,” Bodett said.

Bodett said the town escaped Irene with only about $15,000 of damage, mostly on Sunset Lake and Stickney Brook roads. He hopes that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse the town for the repairs.

“We dodged the bullet,” he said. “I think it speaks highly of our road foremen and their crews over the past many years that our drainage plans held up to this true high-water test.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #118 (Wednesday, September 14, 2011).

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