Advocates worry about covered bridge 'replacement' plans

·3 min read

The Covered Bridges Conservation Association of New Brunswick is starting a petition to help prevent an apparent replacement of the Vaughan Creek Covered Bridge in St. Martins.

Ray Boucher, the president of the association, said in the 1950s there were 340 covered bridges in New Brunswick. Now there's only 58.

"It will be a travesty if this province continues to destroy our rural heritage and I for one wish it to stop," Boucher writes in his letter.

The organization, formed in 2017, has been advocating for the preservation of all covered bridges. In 2018, they visited a series of covered bridges across the province and gained 3,518 signatures on the petition that called to "save all covered bridges," said Boucher.

Boucher said he doesn't understand why the government won't listen.

In a letter to Boucher dated Dec. 7 and signed by Premier Blaine Higgs, it states that "a concept for the replacement structure has been selected and the design effort is progressing." A Government of New Brunswick press release on Dec. 16 also stated the design work is continuing.

Higgs's letter also says the federal government has supplied some financial assistance.

According to the letter, the proposed structure is a two-lane bridge that will have a "wood housing" that will mimic a traditional covered bridge design. It will have "full highway load carrying capacity and vertical clearance to accommodate tour buses and recreational vehicles."

The letter does not say what will happen with the old bridge once the replacement is constructed.

Boucher said the Vaughan Creek Covered Bridge appears in a unique landscape. It's the only place in Canada where you can take a photo of two covered bridges and a lighthouse together, he said. In addition, New Brunswick is only one of two Canadian provinces to have covered bridges, he said.

That makes New Brunswick a spot for tourism, not to mention the heritage the bridges possess, he said. All but five are built before 1945 he said, most in the early part of the 20th century.

"We have visitors from all over the world that come to our province every year and many of them, part of their itinerary is visiting covered bridges."

In addition, he said wood is more carbon-emission-friendly than materials such as steel or cement.

The letter lists two alternative options. First, that a second low profile bridge could be built alongside the existing covered bridge which could be restored to function as the second lane. And second, that the covered bridge remain as a walking bridge.

Boucher said the cost to restore a covered bridge is 66 to 95 per cent what the cost would be to replace it, according to three different engineers he consulted.

He's also upset that the association was not consulted or contacted about the decision.

"The twin bridges are so iconic. They have to do something to keep the two bridges standing where they are."

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. L'initiative de journalisme local est financée par le gouvernement du Canada.

Caitlin Dutt, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal