GUILFORD -- There’s more bad news for Guilford’s historic Green River Covered Bridge.
With the span already closed for a wing wall rehabilitation project, crews have found unexpected damage to a bridge abutment. And that problem must be fixed before the bridge can reopen, officials say.
The discovery prompted a special meeting Thursday at the site, where Selectboard members voted to extend the bridge project by a month and also to spend up to $150,000 more -- an amount that would double the contract’s original cost.
It’s not yet clear where that money will come from. But officials say they have no choice in the matter.
"We need to make sure that the bridge is safe," Town Administrator Katie Buckley said. "It’s really a public safety issue. It could compromise the safety of the bridge if its not addressed."
Guilford officials are studying the long-term future of the covered bridge, which is more than 140 years old and has structural issues. Just a few months ago, the span’s weight limit was reduced from 8 tons to 4 tons, which forced delivery drivers and some emergency personnel to make alternate travel arrangements.
The wing wall project, which began last week, is a separate matter from any future rehabilitation plans. Selectboard members last month awarded the wing wall contract, which was not to exceed $153,500, to Welch Masonry in partnership with Zaluzny Excavating.
The project involves long-planned repairs to a support structure for a bridge abutment.
But everything changed when Welch Masonry found deficiencies in the bridge’s west abutment: Buckley characterized the issue as a "pretty significant void" underneath a concrete slab that had been placed there in the 1960s.
"When they got to a certain point in the wing wall project, the abutment was looking a little questionable," Buckley said. "It never would have been discovered if they didn’t do the wing wall project."
She added that "all of this happened very quickly." The new development forced Welch Masonry to come up with a plan to fix the abutment, and Selectboard members gathered at the bridge Thursday morning to consider that plan.
Also present were the contractor; local residents; a representative from the state Agency of Natural Resources; and Matt Mann, a senior planner specializing in transportation at Windham Regional Commission.
Selectboard members voted unanimously to add up to $150,000 to the project in order to address the abutment. If the full amount is necessary, that could push the job past the $300,000 mark.
Buckley said the town has some reserve funding, but officials have not yet specified a source for the extra bridge money.
"We’re going to be reassessing our financial landscape," Buckley said.
Also changing is the project schedule. The new completion date is Oct. 22, meaning drivers will not be able to use the bridge until then.
The original schedule would have allowed pedestrians to cross the bridge around the time the school year begins later this month, but that doesn’t seem likely now. On Thursday, Buckley could say only that "we’re going to be working out the details of that."