Protesters want to stop demolition of Hammond River covered bridge

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Protesters want to stop demolition of Hammond River covered bridge

About 30 Kings County residents protested Monday against the government's decision to take down an old covered bridge over the Hammond River near French Village.

The 104-year-old structure is being dismantled after it was damaged last fall by a contractor doing work for the government who violated the weight restrictions.

It is to be replaced with a modern bridge by January.

But Janet Kilpatrick, who grew up near the Hammond River No. 2 bridge, said that's not acceptable.

"If it was gone out with, as I say, an act of God, either a freshet, a high wind, that's one thing," she said. "But to tear down a complete bridge that's standing, it's just ridiculous and unheard of today."

Part of region's identity

The bridge was damaged when an excavator fell through it last October.

Then, in July, the government abandoned plans to repair the bridge, after wood rot was discovered.

In announcing the replacement bridge, Transportation Minister Bill Fraser said this was the option favoured by local residents.

But the decision has angered some people in the area, who believe the region's cultural identity is tied to covered bridges.

"I was quite in shock," Kilpatrick said. "This is a part of our heritage. Our bridges are getting few and far in between. It's very upsetting."

A local engineer's proposal to restore the bridge to its former glory was dismissed by the provincial government, stirring even more ill feelings among locals people.

Dan Tingley, a senior design engineer, had offered to save the bridge at a fraction of the cost and time needed to replace it.

But Fraser said at the time that he was going to go with the recommendations of his department's engineers. 

Mixed feelings

Gary Crossman, MLA for Hampton, who was at the protest Monday, said the initial response from constituents was overwhelmingly in support of keeping the structure up and in use.

But time has worn the support down, even though there "is still a mixed feeling down here," he said.

"People, their hopes are gone because they want to get across the water sooner rather than later," he said.

Progressive Conservative party leader Blaine Higgs, who was also at the protest, said the debate over the bridge has gone on "way too long."

"This bridge could have been up and running in its original state four or five months ago," said Higgs. "Now, I know, it's at a point where many people are like, 'we just want our bridge back. We just want to cross the river.'"

Gary Arseneault, who lives three houses down the road toward Hampton, said not being able to use the bridge is inconvenient.

Arseneault said he doesn't want to see the historic bridge removed or destroyed. But an added 20 minutes of commute in the mornings and evenings is too long, he said.

"Your time going up, your time coming back, it's like half an hour," he said. "Where you're just a minute or two with the bridge. You're losing a lot of time."

Despite the protest, the provincial government shows no sign of changing its mind.

While workers are gradually dismantling the bridge, a crane is expected in a few days to demolish the bridge's roof.