Monday, August 31, 2015

Babb's Covered Bridge takes another hit - By Walter Lunt

Babb’s Covered Bridge, Windham and Gorham’s venerable historic link over the Presumpscot River just can’t seem to catch a break. It has again sustained damage, though minor, from an August 19 vehicle collision on the Windham side that did not close the span.

The hit occurred around noon when a box delivery truck failed to clear the 10-foot entrance. It appeared as though the corner of the truck’s cargo section struck the top right side of the curved opening. Windham police chief Kevin Schofield said the driver of the truck reported the mishap immediately and that insurance carried by the truck’s owner would cover the damage.

State Department of Transportation inspectors later declared the bridge safe. Schofield said the cause of the accident was human error and that the driver had misjudged the height of the bridge entrance. He said the middle of the entrance is 10 feet in height, but not for the full width of the curved opening. Damages will be worked out between the DOT and the truck owner’s insurance carrier.

Last February the bridge sustained serious damage on the same end when a truck, presumably a plow, struck the left side of the entrance and forced the bridge’s closure for about three weeks. The incident was classified as a hit and run and remains under investigation.

Over the past year the bridge’s troubles have not been limited to vehicular crashes. Last summer vandals sawed a hole through the roof of the wooden structure to access a high point from which to jump into the river. DOT officials made a temporary repair, but swimmers opened it again this summer. In addition, another jump hole was created through sideboards on the inside of the bridge.
The pervasive problem of graffiti covering nearly every square foot of the length of both sides of the inside walls appear to be increasing. In some spots graffiti over graffiti is observed.

Schofield, who assumed the position of police chief just four months ago, said he intends to enhance enforcement at the bridge, particularly during the problem summer months. He envisions beefing up patrols in the area, possibly in a cooperative venture with Gorham. But, he emphasizes, citizen involvement is crucial. 

“If a citizen sees anything inappropriate or suspicious, don’t be afraid to report it.” As an example he cites how a passerby called in suspicious activity at the bridge last May. The resulting police investigation led to a 20-year-old Lovell woman pleading guilty to criminal mischief.

Schofield views the covered bridge as an “asset to the community, an attractive representation of the history of Gorham and Windham. It should not be used as a jungle gym!” He says penalties leveled against convicted vandals should involve restitution, where perpetrators help fix what they break or clean up what they defile.

Plans for general repairs to the aging structure, built in the mid-70s as a replica of the original 19th century bridge, remain unclear. Although the supporting structure is secure, issues involving the roof and granite underpinnings have been the source of discussions between the state, town and local historians. DOT officials have hinted that the low traffic count over the bridge and dwindling transportation funds make it unfeasible to restore the span using historic construction practices. Gary Plummer, spokesman for the Windham Historical Society, said grouting of the granite supports to prevent bridge movement caused by the river current and the freeze/thaw cycle was scheduled for this summer, but has not yet begun. He said other repairs, including the roof are estimated to cost over $50,000. These still have to be worked out and they will work with the local legislative delegation to find a solution.

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