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Troubled bridge over Pine Brook

Residents worry over potential bridge collapse in North Wakefield

NORTH WAKEFIELD RESIDENT John Waitner is worried that the bridge leading to his neighborhood could collapse if the town doesn’t lower its weight limit and make some repairs. (Daymond Steer photo) (click for larger version)
April 01, 2010
WAKEFIELD — North Wakefield Village residents are nervous that they could get stranded in their neighborhood if the 110-year-old bridge over Pine Brook collapses under the strain of logging trucks. The residents have petitioned selectmen to lower the bridge's weight limit until it can be fixed.

The town-owned bridge is located on North Wakefield Road, which is off of Route 16 opposite to Pine River Pond Road and the Town Farm Country Market sign. This area is close to the town line with Ossipee. The bridge is approximately 15 feet long. It consists of concrete slab covered in pavement. The abutments are made from concrete and granite blocks.

Resident John Waitner appeared at the selectmen's meeting last week to inform officials of the situation in North Wakefield and to deliver the petition, which contained 23 signatures.

"We're landlocked if it were to fail," said Waitner. "There's about 20 households that would be affected between those in Wakefield and Wolfeboro."

About six houses are in Wolfeboro and the rest are in Wakefield. The bridge was originally built around 1900. The homes date from the late 1700s to the early 1900s. The neighborhood used to be its own village complete with a general store and a church (now converted to houses) said Waitner, a member of the Wakefield Heritage Commission.

North Wakefield Road dead-ends in pavement that's so deteriorated that light vehicles would be unable to pass it. North Wakefield Road intersects Old Farms Roads, which dead ends on both sides. One side of Old Farms Road is blocked by train tracks and crumbled pavement. A steep hill and a guardrail that protects Route 16 cuts off the other side of Old Farms Road.

Waitner said the petition ask selectmen to lower weight limit for vehicles on the bridge from 40 tons to 15 tons until the bridge can be fixed. The petitioners' limit would allow vehicles the size of oil trucks to pass. There would be exceptions for school buses, fire trucks, and snowplows.

In the last two months, a lumbering operation in the neighborhood has accelerated the deterioration of the bridge as numerous tractor-trailers have been hauling chips, bark, and logs over it, said Waitner. Such a tractor-trailer rumbled over the bridge during a recent tour.

The weight from the tractor-trailers is causing granite and concrete blocks on the abutments to separate from each other and slide towards the water, said Waitner adding several years ago the same blocks were flush together. The pavement on the bridge is also in bad shape and is cracking. Maintenance crews fill big holes with sand periodically.

The logging company, Valley Logging, of Ossipee, did not return calls for comment by press time. The people who hired Valley Logging, Jeffrey and Brenda Beckwith, could not be reached. The Beckwiths live in Billerica, Mass., but they also own property at 303 North Wakefield Road.

The state rates a bridge's condition on a scale from one to nine, with the high numbers representing good condition and low numbers poor condition. In August of 2008, the bridge was rated a four and was red-listed. Any bridge that gets red-listed is considered a priority to fix, said Waitner.

In December, the state downgraded the bridge to a three. State inspectors were back at the bridge recently. If the bridge gets rated a two, the state will close it, said Waitner.

Earlier this week, Town Administrator Robin Frost said she would ask the state for their report from December, advice on how to proceed, and how much it might cost to repair the bridge. The town has about $32,000 in a bridge repair capital reserve that could be used for any of the town's bridges. Frost said she has no objections to lowering the weight limit on the bridge, but was waiting for the state.

"It makes sense to me," she said.

The North Wakefield's bridge isn't the only one that needs repair. Frost said there are two other red listed bridges in town. One of those is the Canal Bridge on Route 109 and the other is in Union.

If the bridge on North Wakefield Road failed, authorities would have to come in through the Old Farms Road intersection with Route 16. That would entail taking out the guardrail and leveling the slope, said Waitner, who vowed to appear at the selectmen's meeting every week until he can get an answer to the petition.

Fellow North Wakefield residents Norma Joy and Paul Campbell expressed their concerns about the bridge in follow up interviews.

Campbell said he was concerned that the concrete blocks on the bridge's abutments don't seem to be supporting any weight. Campbell said he knows about weight bearing structures because he's a former engineer who used to design furniture.

Joy wrote that she called one year to complain there was a hole in the bridge and the repair crews just poured sand into it. Unsurprisingly, the sand washed out.

Both agreed with Waitner that the logging trucks are making the situation worse and that the weight limit should be lowered.

"I have lived as an abutter to this bridge for 23 years and have seen the abuse done by overweight trucks and equipment as the town turned a blind eye to the reality of the bridge's failure and abuse," wrote Campbell. "We ask that the bridge be restored to its original glory and new weight limits be posted."

Lynn Paquette, of the state's bridge design department, said the North Wakefield bridge's identification number is 096/032. State officials inspected it last week, she said.

In other selectmen's news:

- Ken Paul has become chairman of the selectmen. He was nominated by former chair Mark Duffy.

- Starting April 2, Selectmen will allow six businesses to dump trash at the transfer station an hour earlier than the general public. The businesses will be allowed to dump full loads of trash from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. on days the transfer station is open. They may dump partial loads at other times. The new rule is meant to reduce congestion at the transfer station. The six businesses are: Poor People's Pub, Lake Forest Resort, Palmer Motel, Colby Car Center, Hen House Restaurant, and Woodman Forge and Fireplace.

- Selectmen are reviewing a contract with planning services consultant Michael Garrepy of Rollinsford. Selectmen declined to sign a contract last week out of concern it would cost the entire planning services budget of $30,000. Garrepy's work would include attending planning board meetings and writing the master plan.

Littleton Chmber
Varney Smith
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