June 17, 2013

Saco mayor: Historic bridge must be restored

Disappointed in the bond rejection, Mark Johnston seeks to reconvene the Stackpole committee.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

SACO - The city may reconvene a committee to come up with a new plan to fix the historic Stackpole Bridge after voters last week rejected borrowing $1.7 million to restore the stone bridge on Simpson Road. 

click image to enlarge

The Stackpole Bridge on the Simpson Road in Saco is closed to traffic until it is repaired or replaced. Last week, voters rejected a $1.7 million bond for repairs to the 150-year-old span.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The Stackpole Bridge, built in 1848, is one of the oldest stone bridges on a public roadway in the state, but is closed to vehicle traffic until it is repaired or replaced. Neighbors to the bridge call it the "gem of rural Saco" and have fought for more than a decade for its restoration. 

The plan to borrow $1.7 million was rejected by a vote of 971-742. The restoration plan did not receive support in the ward where the bridge was located. Voters there voted 223-149 against the bond. 

The bridge, eligible for National Historic Preservation status, is remarkable for its vaulted arch, which is shaped like a giant keyhole and rises 21 feet over the creek. Traffic on the bridge has been reduced to one lane for years, but was closed altogether in May because of concerns about its stability. 

Mayor Mark Johnston said he was disappointed by the rejection of the bond, largely because the city is responsible for maintaining its infrastructure and the bridge closure presents a public safety concern. Emergency vehicles responding to the five Saco homes on the Buxton side of the bridge must take a seven-minute detour through Buxton. 

Johnston said there is no doubt something needs to be done about the bridge, but how it will be paid for remains unclear. On Monday, he will ask the City Council to reconvene the same committee that previously reviewed repair and replacement plans and direct it to give the council another recommendation about what to do with the bridge. 

The recommendation to the council would be made a month after the committee starts meeting, Johnston said. 

Both Johnston and Councilor Arthur Tardif, who opposed the $1.7 million repair price tag, said it is possible the cost of fixing or replacing the bridge could be included in the municipal budget. 

Tardif said he would like to see the bridge repaired or replaced, but for less money than the current proposal. Replacing the span may be less expensive than repairing it to maintain its historic nature, he said.    

"A lot of people said 'why spend that much money to fix it when you can't even see it's historic when you drive over it?' " Tardif said. 

Inga Browne, a neighbor and member of the Friends of Stackpole Bridge, said neighbors are disappointed with the vote. Neighbors have often said their preference is to restore the bridge, but they also want to make sure it is reopened, she said. 

"I think having a workable and safe bridge is the most important thing," she said. "We can't just let it sit and gather moss." 

There is value in repairing a piece of Saco's history, Johnston said, because it is a strong structure that has weathered many storms and floods. He said he has heard stories of how water flowed over the Stackpole Bridge during massive floods in 1936 that wiped out other bridges in the area.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham@mainetoday.com

Twitter: grahamgillian

 

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