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Bridges in Brasher, Winthrop remain closed; St. Regis crested at highest level since 1947


BRASHER FALLS - The raging waters of the St. Regis River - reaching crest levels Tuesday night that had not been seen in nearly seven decades - could divide the hamlet of Brasher Falls for several more days.

The Main Street bridge on Route 11C in downtown Brasher Falls was closed on Tuesday afternoon and could be shutdown for at least a week, according to town officials.

“I talked with Ernest Olin, who is the head engineer at the DOT office in Potsdam. He indicated to me at noon that the 11C bridge in downtown Brasher will be closed until a major bridge engineer comes to work on it,” Brasher Town Supervisor M. James Dawson said. “Conceivably this bridge could be closed for a week. They’re still allowing emergency vehicles and such to go through but it is closed to all other vehicles.”

A second bridge over the St. Regis River on the state Route 420 extension in Winthrop also remained closed on Wednesday and can not be looked at until the waters continue to drop.

State officials said the water levels will need to drop before appropriate studies can be completed to determine the structural integrity of the two bridges.

“The (Route 420) bridge remains closed, and we have not been able to inspect it yet because the water levels remain too high. As soon as the levels recede, we will have an idea of if there is any structural damage. If there isn’t, we can reopen the bridge,” DOT Director of Communications Beau Duffy said.

There were concerns the flood waters, which carried away a concrete pier that had supported a former railroad bridge for decades last week, had also wreaked havoc on a bridge in Brasher that connects St. Lawrence Central school, a restaurant and a gas station to the other side of the river that is home to churches, the fire station and rescue squad building and the recreation center,

The National Weather Service reported the St. Regis River at Brasher Center rose to 12.25 feet Tuesday evening, the fourth highest crest on record. for that location.

Meteorologist Michael Muccilli said that the last time the river reached those heights was on April 7, 1947. The highest on record was 15.3 feet on April 6, 1937.

The river had dropped to 12.1 feet by Wednesday afternoon and that level was gradually decreasing.

“There was a lot of sandbagging yesterday. The water is dropping today and things are looking good. ... It should be a quiet day today and the cold helped out,” Brasher-Winthrop Fire Chief Patrick “Pappy” Kowalchuk said Wednesday. “This year is worse than usual. This is the highest the river has ever been without ice in it. Within 10 minutes it rose a foot at the bridge.”

Mr. Kowalchuk noted that his department’s response time to calls on Tuesday was not affected as much as it could have been due to extra precautions. Both bridges on state Route 420 and Route 11C were closed Tuesday and were still out of service on Wednesday.

“We put one of our engines in the school bus drive because of the bridges shut down,” Mr. Kowalchuk said.

National Grid spokesperson Virginia Limmiatis noted that approximately 1,300 issues customers lost power for 30 minutes Tuesday as the utility took steps to alleviate potential issues linked to flooding at its substation on County Route 53.

“Like (Tuesday) we continue to monitor the situation. We provided temporary bypass at the substation on the breakers there. Our understanding is that the river is receding and those are good signs,” she said. “The threat is less severe. (Tuesday) the threat was very real in terms of the flood waters. Now we are just looking at the water level. Why that’s critical – it enables us to look at the infrastructure of the substation.”

Local businesses near the flooded region have felt the affect of Mother Nature this week with changes in business hours and sporadic traffic.

Among those in the center of the storm are Munson’s Mini-Mart, located at 946 Route 11C in Brasher Falls, and the Riverview Restaurant and Bar, 928 Route 11C.

“Everybody from the other side of town has to go all the way around town because of the bridges being closed. We were closed (Tuesday) night because the power went out at around 7 p.m.,” Desrae Munson said. “Back eight or 10 years ago the whole campground was flooded, but I don’t think they shut the bridge down that time. (Tuesday) was very slow business but (Wednesday was) back to normal.”

Riverview owner David Seguin is concerned about the impact the bridge closure could have on his restaurant during a holiday weekend.

“(The flooding) has definitely affected business because people have had to drive way out of their way to get here. We have some big stuff going on this weekend, and we have been worried about how everything will turn out,” Mr. Seguin said. “We have a band on Friday night and Saturday night and then we have an Easter brunch on Sunday. We will be staying open normal hours and it will definitely be worth it if people go around the longer way and come on in.”

Mr. Dawson added that while people can still work their way around the shutdown the bridge closures are an obvious inconvenience.

“So somebody who has to get across the bridge (from the school side of the river) would need to go probably down the Barnage Road down to the Finnegan Road, out to Route 11 and go as far as Holmes Hill and then come back into Winthrop and back into Brasher,” he said. “We still have County Route 53 and several other roads in Brasher that are still closed.”

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