DRESDEN — A high tide and cold steel, combined with careful planning, did what Mother Nature did only once in 84 years – take out entire sections of the old Richmond-Dresden bridge.

This time, it was on purpose.

Reed & Reed – the Woolwich-based contractor that built the new, $18.6 million bridge which opened to traffic in December and now towers over the rusted remains of the old bridge it replaced – removed the second of five large truss sections of the old bridge Friday.

Technically, the rising Kennebec River tide did most of the heavy lifting.

On Thursday afternoon at low tide, Reed & Reed workers placed a barge under an entire bridge truss section, then shimmed in steel and wood cribwork between the barge and the old bridge.

“Then you wait for the tide to lift the span off the bearings” and off the concrete piers upon which the old bridge spans rest, said Charlie Guerette, project engineer for Reed & Reed. “It lifted off about quarter to 8 (Friday) morning.”

The barge, with the large bridge span resting on top, was then moved by a tugboat to a work area on the Dresden side of the river to be dismantled.

Guerette said it will take about a week for workers, using cutting torches and a hydraulic sheer, to cut up the aged steel bridge sections, which then will be hauled off by Clark’s Eastside Scrap, in Chelsea, to be recycled.

The section removed Friday morning was the last section to be removed until the weather warms back up and the thickening ice leaves the river. The remaining three sections probably will be removed in late March or April.

That’s because, Guerette said, it was getting too hard to move the barges around the river ice. This week workers kept the ice from freezing up around the barges by, a few hours each day, driving Reed & Reed’s tugboat around the area, breaking up the ice.

The old bridge was built in 1931.

In 1936, a major ice jam took out multiple sections of the bridge and carried them downriver, and they were later replaced.

Using the tide to remove an entire large bridge section, instead of cutting it up piece by piece or using other methods, is unusual but not unheard of, according to Peter Brown, manager of the Richmond-Dresden bridge project for the Maine Department of Transportation.

“I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’ve only seen it done this way once or twice,” Brown said. “Obviously, you’ve got to have a tide that’s available and a contractor set up to utilize it.”

The first of the two truss sections was removed this month and already has been cut up and scrapped.

The next parts of the old bridge to be removed will be the concrete piers that protrude from the river and held the steel bridge above the water.

Guerette said an excavator with a ram on it will be used to pound away at the piers to break them up so they can be removed. The underwater pieces of the piers probably will be broken up by dropping a ball or wedge on them from a crane.

Guerette said they’ll probably have the entire old bridge removed by summer.

Brown said crews will come back to finish off the new bridge when the weather warms up in the spring. He said stripes will be added to mark the sides of the travel lanes. The centerline, which is already wearing off, will be repainted. He said it got too cold to paint stripes on the sides of the road.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

[email protected]