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Recovery of historic Blenheim bridge is object of meeting

Saturday, March 24, 2012
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— County workers and historians were able to recover several pieces of the historic Blenheim covered bridge that was swept away by the Schoharie Creek last August.

But with limited time available during efforts to recover from Tropical Storm Irene, numerous parts were left where they sat, some intertwined with trees and other debris, others sitting on the creek’s shore.

With the help of residents and other volunteers, Schoharie County Historical Society Director Carle J. Kopecky hopes the bulk of what remains can be picked up.

The town of Blenheim is hosting a gathering at Town Hall this morning to plan out the search and recovery operation and brainstorm on what to do with the pieces once they’re in hand.

Recovery of the 157-year-old bridge, picked up and smashed into pieces by the flooded creek on Aug. 28, is one of several elements of the town’s ongoing efforts to recover from the flood, Town Council member Anne Strauch said in an email.

The town, one of several that lost homes and roads to the flooding, is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to put together a long-term recovery plan and has formed committees focusing on infrastructure and mitigation, historical, cultural and housing rehabilitation and economic development, Strauch said.

Today’s meeting is expected to result in a more-structured effort to search for and recover remaining parts of the bridge, she said.

The National Park Service in February told town officials the bridge would be officially stripped of its National Historic Landmark designation because it was destroyed, but Kopecky said the federal agency told officials more recently that they wouldn’t even start that process before 2014 and it’s currently on hold.

“We’re happy they have agreed to indefinitely not deal with delisting at this point,” Kopecky said.

The mild winter likely helped preserve pieces of the bridge, and the precise location of many parts is already marked on a map, Kopecky said.

Crews from the county’s Public Works Department were only given a few days in December to pull identified bridge parts out of the creek because other recovery work was ongoing.

Today’s meeting will center on three primary issues: organizing the search to locate and recover more pieces, finding a way to protect the bridge’s parts that are pulled from the water and planning reconstruction of the landmark torn from its abutments adjacent to the Route 30 bridge over the Schoharie Creek.

“The bridge’s recovery is a major component of the larger flood-recovery effort,” Kopecky said.

Considered the longest single-span covered bridge in the country, the 210-foot-long bridge served as an icon for the town, with its image adorning town letterhead and municipal vehicles.

Named a National Historic Landmark in 1964, the bridge’s construction represents one of the earliest uses of iron nuts and bolts in civil engineering and it has served as a meeting place for local events.

Kopecky said once all recoverable parts are found and secured, the group still has to figure out the best way to store them. Sitting the wooden pieces on the ground with a tarp over them won’t work because that would trap moisture and do more harm to the parts.

“We need a group of people to attack that problem and come up with some solutions,” he said.

The bridge was among numerous county-owned structures officials are hoping will yield funding from FEMA to help pay for its replacement. The goal at this point, Kopecky said, is to use the recovered parts to rebuild it.

The meeting is scheduled for 11 a.m. at Blenheim Town Hall, 1748 Route 30, about 13 miles south of Middleburgh.

 
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