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The future of the historic Forestville Bridge?


Fri, Mar 20th, 2009
Posted in Government

Karen Schmidt, a resident of Carimona Township, expresses her concerns with the closing of the Forestville bridge. You can view Karen’s exclusive Journal video interview along with other perspectives highlighted at www.fillmorecountyjournal.com.

The dilemma facing Fillmore County as to the future of the Forestville Bridge #6263 has been brought to a boil with the recent discussion at the March 3 county board meeting to consider submitting a letter to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) which would offer the ownership and future responsibility of the bridge to the DNR Parks and Trails Department. This question of how to go forward with the historic bridge has been simmering for over twenty years.

A Forestville State Park Management Plan was developed and released in 1995 with the input of a citizen advisory group and a technical advisory group which included interested agencies, the DNR and the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS). At the time it was recommended that traffic be rerouted from Memorial Day to late September, in essence closing the bridge to vehicular traffic seasonally. With the June flood in 2008, the bridge was inspected and deemed to have structural deficiencies. The county board closed it for safety reasons to motor vehicles year round. The bridge is open for pedestrian and horse traffic only.

The 1995 Plan

Advantages and disadvantages (at the time) to closing the bridge May through September were listed.

Advantages to rerouting motor vehicle traffic to the township road north of the park and not allowing traffic to cross the bridge at the historic site:

•1. Improved safety and reduced liability

•2. Extended bridge life

•3. Ease of understandable access to the park for visitors

•4. Improved historic site program and tourist attraction

•5. Improved control for park management (visitor orientation, permit and fee collection, reduced littering and enforcement costs)

•6. Better security for historic artifacts

Disadvantages

•1. Inconvenience for local traffic

•2. Scenic drive "through" park is lost

•3. Negative public relations

•4. Cost to improve/maintain township road

•5. Loss of "backroad" if township road is improved

•6. Emergency access concerns, although access could be gated (at the time meaning emergency vehicles could still cross the historic bridge)

On October 12, 1994, "the Preston Area Tourism Association and business community members suggested an alternative" to what was then a suggestion to close the bridge seasonally. "The concept would be to pave six miles of County Roads 12 and 18 from Preston through Carimona, establishing a second entrance to the park. To alleviate congestion at the historic bridge, a new motor bridge would need to be constructed downstream of the historic bridge."

The advisory committee concluded that the above idea would cause major issues including: 1) environmental impacts, river channelization within the flood plain, 2)historical impacts, visual from historic site, 3) financial impacts, multimillion dollar project, 4)park circulation, second major entrance would need to be controlled and would bisect the park into two zones, 5)park character, change it from a quiet to busier atmosphere, 6) visitor safety.

In order to retain a quiet, noncommercial atmosphere, "this plan cannot recommend this option." The advisory group also expected that the high cost of improving the township road could not be justified by the level of use. They suggested that some maintenance including dust control could be appropriate. The plan also concludes that "motor traffic is disruptive to the 'living history' program which is being conducted to create an 1899 atmosphere."

Minnesota Historical Society

Heather Koop, southern MHS, has no problem with stabilizing the Historic Bridge's structure to avoid further deterioration as long as it is done in a 'sensitive manner.' She admitted that vehicular use of the bridge would not be ideal, but that is the way it has been in the past and it could continue. The bridge is relied on for pedestrian traffic to bring visitors to the site. The site including the buildings, the bridge and the landscape is registered with the National Register of Historic Places. Koop clarified that the MHS manages the site, but is "not a landowner." She emphasized that the historic bridge is an iconic structure and "its image adds to that going back in time feeling" which is a contributing element to enable a visitor to experience that 1899 period.

DNR

Central Regional Director of the DNR Joel Stedman maintained, "Our job is to protect natural and cultural resources." He added, "We are sympathetic to the dilemma," meaning that faced now by the county. Stedman said that the plan for the park was developed before his time and that it was up to the county to decide the future of the bridge that is currently owned by them. He suggested that the county needs to look at possibly remodeling the old bridge or building new as separate entities and consider costs of either alternative. Stedman remarked that both the DNR and the MHS were asked by Commissioner Chuck Amunrud and County Engineer John Grindeland to detail their position in a letter in October of 2008 which they did. He made it clear that the DNR doesn't have anything like "veto power," but if the county decided to make a new crossing across the Root River, it would trigger the need for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or some kind of environmental review. There would be questions as to the affect on the trout stream, the flood plain, and wetland rules. He generally agreed with the conclusions of the 1995 management plan.

Carimona Township

Supervisors representing Carimona Township plan to pass a resolution at their next meeting in support of having a bridge open to vehicular traffic so that the road does not "dead end." Ann O'Connor insisted, "Keep it open," in response to a question as to what is the best outcome for the bridge. She said that it should be improved, remodeled and agreed it needs work, saying that the abutments are really in bad shape. O'Connor remarked, "They don't know what goes on in our small communities," speaking of the MHS. She suggested that the bridge has already been altered with the silver rails.

Arlynn Hovey remarked, "It is there now, hate to lose it." He explained that local people have already had one entrance to the park taken away noting that there used to be a road to the south which was taken away to establish the horse trailer parking area. Keeping the bridge closed would more isolate the park from Preston.

Hovey said that the third supervisor for Carimona, David Mensink has stated that they don't know what the future holds. Hovey explained that it is very possible that a farmer will one day be running land on both sides of the Root River and if no bridge was available to cross, he may be forced to drive his equipment down into and across the river. The township expects that they also will incur some maintenance costs for roughly a mile and a half of road if the bridge were turned over to the DNR.

Forestville Township

Forestville Township has little interest in trying to have the bridge reopened to vehicular traffic as noted by township supervisor Don Ruesink.

Cities

The city of Preston some months ago already passed a resolution asking that a bridge be open to vehicular traffic. The bridge being closed could benefit Wykoff and Spring Valley businesses and hurt Preston businesses.

Preston City Administrator Joe Hoffman explained that the closing of the bridge makes the trip eight miles longer to Preston from the state park. He stated it is a "significant concern to the city that the bridge may be permanently closed to vehicle traffic." Hoffman's concern is loss of a convenient access to Preston from the park which could have a negative affect on city businesses.

Emergency services or at least those of the fire department have been divided by the bridge for about twenty years. Mayor Kurt Reicks explained that Preston service is to one side of the bridge and Spring Valley service goes to the other side of the bridge. He noted that it has been that way because of the weight limits on the bridge, not allowing passage of a fire truck for some time.

Projected Costs

County Coordinator Karen Brown explained that to date there has not been an estimate made as to the cost of repairing the bridge in its present location. However, a cost estimate is being prepared.

According to Assistant County Engineer Tom Miles, if a new bridge was to be built downstream from the historic bridge, it could cost the county taxpayers from one to two million dollars. This is at best an estimate, and would include the cost of new approaches, engineering, expected environmental studies, and the possibility of court costs. If a new bridge were proposed, the project could be held up in court for a number of years.

A traffic check for use of that bridge was completed in 2005 and the average daily number of vehicles using that section of road was eighty.

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