Troubled Bridge Over Troubled Water

Bridge in the river

Photo: Jane Winn

Although much of the damage caused by Hurricane Irene last fall was immediately apparent, one of the storm’s victim’s was hidden from view in a secluded area of Pittsfield near New Lenox Road. An old metal bridge that seemed to lead from nowhere to nowhere fell into the Housatonic River. Canoeists, hikers, and cross-country skiers knew about the bridge, but most others were unfamiliar with it.
Earlier in the year, before the collapse, one of our volunteers who hikes in that area had asked us if we would organize a river cleanup to remove all the trash that had accumulated just upstream, caught by the bridges piers and girders. The bridge collapsed before we could arrange the event.

We learned of the collapse in late October from an email forwarded to us by the Housatonic Valley Association and hurried out to have a look. It was clear to us that the bridge needed to be removed quickly. It was a danger to canoeists, but also, the fast-moving water that passed through the bridge members could be an irresistible challenge to some youngster who just had to try to cross the river by stepping from broken girder to broken girder.
BEAT contacted Jim McGrath, head of the City of Pittsfield Parks Department, who was already aware of the situation and who had already contacted both GE and the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Wildlife to discuss finances and responsibilities. They owned the land on either side of the bridge. Ownership of the bridge itself seemed to rest with DFW. However, the work would be contracted by the City of Pittsfield under an emergency permit issued by the Pittsfield Conservation Commission. A site meeting took place, that included representatives from the City of Pittsfield, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the contractor who would perform the work for the City.

BEAT attended the Conservation Commission hearing on January 5. The discussion included no mention of the fact that there were PCBs in the river. One member of the audience, longtime BEAT volunteer Thelma Barzotini, brought up the PCB issue. BEAT executive director Jane Winn suggested that during removal of the bridge, the downstream area should be protected from mobile PCB-containing sediments by a boom and by silt curtain, and that all trash should be removed from the area around the bridge before any work started. The final decision was that trash would be cleared, and a boom, but not a silt curtain, would be put in place.

Machinery working at the river

Photo: EPA

On January 9, the work began and was finished on January 11. BEAT was present to watch at least part of the removal process. The bridge was lifted rather than dragged through the sediment, and no sediment was visible moving downstream. All-in-all, the process was successful and speedy.