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Town races to repair damaged bridge

CORNWALL — Battling time and the elements to replace a bridge damaged by Tropical Storm Irene was looking remarkably doable as of last week. The selectmen spent most of their Sept. 20 meeting discussing everything that needs to get done, and setting a schedule that is detailed practically down to the minute. Engineer David Battista will continue to work as needed. Resident expert Roger Kane said he will continue to consult on a volunteer basis.First Selectman Gordon Ridgway stated repeatedly he will not allow red tape to slow the process.“I told the state that as far as I am concerned we are still under a state of emergency until the bridge is reopened and residents get fuel and other needs are met,” he said.A plan to install a temporary bridge has been scrapped due to cost, the lack of time-saving it offers and the availability of at least four contractors who say they can design and build a new bridge before winter. The plan requires approvals from town residents for funding that will be reimbursed by the federal and state governments and the Army Corps of Engineers. Also needed are a stream analysis, soil data and a land survey so the longer bridge that is being recommended won’t infringe on adjoining properties.Meanwhile, the four families on the dead-end Lower River Road remain stranded and have to walk in and out to get to their homes and their vehicles. The biggest challenge is getting fuel to those homes. Don Bracken came to the meeting to say that he understands the difficulties of the situation but he is about to run out of propane. A neighbor is already out of fuel oil. He is also concerned that an early winter or more flooding could shut down the project.Ridgway said he had been apprised of the fuel dilemma earlier in the day, and options were being explored. A likely solution would be access over an abandoned rail crossing. A company hired to do test borings below the bridge needed access from the blocked side when they arrived on site later in the week. The plan was to work with Housatonic Railroad Co. on that, and perhaps coordinate with fuel companies to make deliveries during that window.All preliminary design work is expected to be completed by the end of this week, allowing Battista and Kane to put together requests for proposals. Bidders will be required to have the capability to design, which would eliminate a typical project phase. Contractors, they said, are about to lay off workers for the end of the construction season, and will jump at a chance to do one more job. The bid deadline will be Oct. 6. An already-scheduled Sept. 30 town meeting will be moved to Oct. 8. An appropriation of up to $500,000 for the bridge work, potentially reduced with bids in hand, will be on the agenda, along with previous agenda items to establish an economic development commission and commission on the aging.With an approval, construction would begin the following work week. Incentives will likely be offered to encourage speedy work. The selectmen agreed that a 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven-day work schedule would be allowed.Battista described various approaches to building a more substantial superstructure. The old bridge was built basically on piles of stones. New abutments would be made of poured concrete reinforced with steel pilings driven into bedrock.Kane said it’s a simple approach, and can be done well quickly. He or Battista would plan to inspect daily.“It’s a simple project,” he said. “The only difficult thing about it is the time constraint.”

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