Public input sought about footbridge

Posted:  Tuesday, November 21, 2017 - 10:45am

Baker Design Consultants held an informal public forum to discuss future footbridge renovations. The Monday, Nov. 20 meeting  at the Boothbay Harbor town office invited the public to sit in on a presentation held by Dan Bannon of Baker Design Consultants and David Truesdell of Terrence J. DeWan and Associates, Landscaping Architects and Planners. The two consultants outlined the need for renovations and what that could possibly look like.

In attendance were Town Manager Tom Woodin, members of the select board, and members of the public.

“Last Columbus Day we discovered that the swingspan of the footbridge had rot underneath it and it was significant enough to close the footbridge,” said Woodin.

The town then brought in Baker Design Consultants to examine the damage and make recommendations for temporary repairs. However, considering other factors like sea level rise, storm resistance and load capacity, Woodin explained that an exploration of more permanent renovations is necessary as the swingspan update outdates the rest of the bridge by nearly 40 years.

“We have already applied for a grant which is funded out in 2020, a $250,000 grant. The town has already approved, at a town meeting, matching funds for the same amount, but, realistically, when you incorporate this entire footbridge and the degree of renovations that we're talking about, you're probably talking over $1 million.”

Woodin said that's why Bannon and Truesdell were giving a presentation — to begin a discussion on what the people of the town would like and would not like to see as a final result so as to move forward with concepts which will sit well with the public.

The presentation provided by Bannon and Truesdell outlined the history and existing conditions as well as the purpose, need and reconstruction options and possibilities.

“The existing structure was built in '78 to '79 which makes it 38 years old,” said Bannon. “That's not a critical state in its lifespan, but that's a significant portion of the expected life of a timber structure in a coastal environment. It's important that as investments are made in the structure to consider the long-term implications — does it make sense to invest a lot of money into repairing a structure that's already 38 years old?”

Bannon also explained that since the U.S. Coast Guard classifies the footbridge as a moveable structure, if there is ever a future need to give passage to a vessel, the town would be responsible for ensuring those capabilities. According to Bannon, the town either needs to restore those capabilities or seek the Coast Guard to grant a change in classification to the bridge.

In addition to these reasons for potential changes, flood concerns — including sea level rise, but mainly the “storm of the century” scenarios — would suggest raising the height of the bridge by six feet.

“If we're designing an infrastructure project that should last 75 years or more, we need to consider that conditions then, near the end of the life, won't be the same as they are today,” Bannon said.

There are two choices, said Bannon — either elevate the height and reconstruct the bridge or resist and make upgrades to the bridge that would withstand extreme weather.

“This is possible, but can be very difficult to do and can bring other problems with it like loss of access to the bridge during extreme high water events,” said Bannon.

With Bannon's conclusion that the most feasible solution is a complete replacement of the bridge, Truesdell then began floating different ideas and concepts as to what that may look like.

“This is kind of an open session to get the word out there and show you what we're thinking about … We're kind of throwing things out there because we know it needs to be reconstructed,” said Truesdell referring to a slide in his presentation showing the footbridge and two alternatives.

Truesdell and Bannon covered the topics they feel need to be a public discussion such as alignment, width, material to be used — such as timber or steel — as well as other amenities like a spot for leisure and viewing pleasure.

“These are big questions … (The bridge) is straight right now, but has anybody thought about making it curved? Maybe, maybe not.”

“Why would you want to make it curved?” asked Bannon.

Said Truesdell, “Exactly. Why would you want to make it curved? Right now … you've got that one point, you come down the street, and you see all the way across. In a curve type of situation, you're constantly changing your view, there's always something different.”

The presentation will soon be made available on the town website. Bannon and Truesdell plan a public opinion survey.