Decision due on how to rebuild bridge

March 15, 1993|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

Practically everyone agrees that Loy's Station Bridge, destroyed by fire nearly two years ago, should be rebuilt.

But just how the covered bridge, believed to have been built between 1859 and 1880, should be reconstructed has government officials and preservationists at odds.

Preservationists argue that the one-lane bridge, across Owen Creek southeast of Thurmont in Frederick County, should be rebuilt out of wood.

"We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to replace our forefathers' ingenuity with an exact replica," said Dean Fitzgerald, chairman of the Frederick County Covered Bridge Preservation Society.

The Maryland Historical Trust, Frederick County officials and a citizens advisory committee recommended that the county commissioners rebuild the bridge to its 1930s state -- when the span was reinforced with steel beams and a center pier.

The span was one of six 19th-century covered bridges -- three in Frederick -- in Maryland.

Last week, the commissioners, at the urging of preservationists, postponed seeking bids for the $300,000 project to study the issue further. The commissioners are expected to decide tonight.

"It's a very difficult decision," said Commissioner Ronald Sundergill. "It would be a very big step to abandon plans as they currently exist. One of the concerns the board has is that it's already been two years since the bridge burned down, and we would really like to see the bridge reconstructed as soon as we can."

Mr. Fitzgerald, a Thurmont resident who spearheaded efforts to restore the Roddy Road Covered Bridge last year, said his group was pleased that the commissioners were willing to consider other options and postpone advertising for bids. His group has pushed for an all-wooden structure since the bridge was destroyed.

"Most people wouldn't realize whether the bridge was wood or steel underneath," he said. "But for those who appreciate history and what our forefathers have done, the authentic reproduction of that bridge means a whole lot more than just having wood or steel beams under it."

Commissioner Sundergill said the board is sympathetic to the group's concerns but also is worried about changing course after the county has spent $80,000 for the design of a covered bridge with steel beams beneath its planking.

Mr. Sundergill said county officials and a citizens advisory committee recommended a steel-reinforced bridge as safer than wooden bridge and more able to withstand use by heavy vehicles, such as emergency trucks and fire equipment.

"Now that we spent money on designing a bridge, can we realistically scrap that design and replace it with something else costing taxpayers additional money?" Mr. Sundergill said.

Any changes in the design are subject to the approval of the Maryland Historical Trust, which has an easement to the Loy's Station and other covered bridges in Frederick, said Richard Brand, an easement officer with the state.

He said the Maryland Historical Trust probably would support an all-wooden bridge if the original design of Loy's Station were found and used in the reconstruction.

Mr. Brand said the Maryland Historical Trust favored the steel-beam design because it was "the least troubling" and would return the bridge to a known former state.

"We know the bridge was modified in the 1930s with steel beams," Mr. Brand said. "The steel beams would be considered historic and show the changes that occurred for lack of maintenance or whatever."

Mr. Fitzgerald said original plans for the bridge may still exist. But even if they don't, he said, original plans exist for other covered bridges "built to the exact same design at other locations in the United States."

"We can get an accurate picture of that bridge," he said.

Preservationists contend that a wooden structure would be equally safe and cheaper. Mr. Fitzgerald said his group has testimony from engineers that a wooden bridge could withstand heavy loads.

"There's no need for the alleged greater strength of steel," said David Wright, president of the National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges.

"Several engineers have been able to demonstrate that wood alone would be able to handle 15-ton loads without any problems. It would be a sufficient load-bearing bridge in a rural area."

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