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Community strategizes on Wanakena footbridge rebuilding


WANAKENA — Teamwork will be key to rebuilding the Wanakena footbridge, which was mangled by slabs of drifting ice last week, community members agreed at a meeting Monday.

“What we’re all here for is seeing that bridge crossing the Oswegatchie River again,” Fine Supervisor Mark C. Hall told about 50 people at the Ranger School. “On the top of this page I’ve got the date of Jan. 13, 2014, when the footbridge was destroyed. I’m just waiting to fill in the date when it was replaced. I don’t think it’s going to be 2014. It’s not going to be fast. It’s going to be painful.”

Chunks of ice damaged the bridge’s foundation and twisted it. Community residents immediately began talking about repair or replacement of the bridge, an icon of Wanakena.

The bridge was built in 1902 by the Rich Lumber Co., one-time operators of a timber tract and large sawmill.

The bridge, which connects the middle of the hamlet with South Shore Road, was first used by the company’s workers to get from their homes to the mill. The walking bridge joined the state and national registers of historic places in 1999.

Determining what to do is beyond the expertise and fiscal ability of a town in-house job, Mr. Hall said.

“This project needs to be done properly,” he said. “Walmart doesn’t stock replacement bridges for us.”

Mr. Hall laid out initial steps, including bracing the bridge or removing it for safety reasons, and identifying what, if anything, can be salvaged.

Design of any replacement bridge has to be in accord with historical and architectural preservation guidelines, while considering provisions for future ice jams. A dollar figure and a time frame have not been determined.

The Town Council has agreed to contract with Crawford & Stearns, a Syracuse architectural and preservation planning firm. An engineer from the company may be in Wanakena Friday to begin assessment of the bridge, Mr. Hall said.

An ad hoc committee will spearhead the work, with Mr. Hall as chairman. Town Clerk Hope M. Dolan will serve as secretary. Kathy A. Nevil, retired from the Ranger School, will act as a community liaison. Councilwoman Susan N. Westbrook and St. Lawrence County planner Heidi J. Ames will explore potential grants.

“She has been instructed this is a priority for St. Lawrence County,” Mr. Hall said.

Sherman L. Craig, a commissioner with the Adirondack Park Agency, will oversee regulatory affairs. Thomas R. Sauter, Development Authority of the North Country deputy executive director, who has a house in Wanakena, will head up salvage, design and construction.

Volunteers may offer their assistance to any of the committee members.

“I’m used to getting stuff built,” Mr. Sauter said. “We’re off to a good start. Having said that, I can use all the brain power the community can provide.”

Donations earmarked for the bridge can be sent to the Wanakena Historical Association, PO Box 73, Wanakena, N.Y., 13695.

Rick F. Kovacs, proprietor of the Wanakena General Store, said he expected help to roll in because so many people feel strongly about the bridge.

“I believe we can raise this money without much problem,” he said.

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