The meeting was held in Berlin, Vt. at the VAOT Laboratory conference room and led by John Weaver. It was called to order at 1:15 p.m. In attendance were: John Weaver, Joe Nelson, Neil Daniels, Bob Coburn, Jane George, Ron Bechard, Bill McKone, Wilfred Thompson, and Betty Truman. A slide show of Vt. covered bridges was shown. Bridge Watch booklets and course materials were distributed to attendees.
John stated that covered bridges are inspected every 2 years, but only if they are part of the public road system. Bridges privately owned, or not being presently used, are not looked at by inspectors.
Neil Daniels advised the attendees they could buy a copy of the 1995 Consultant Report from their town office by paying the cost of copying. The Town Clerk is the custodian of the report. This report will have info about the bridges in their area and would be very helpful. It is highly recommended that each bridge watch person have this report. AOT also has copies.
Ron Bechard asked what guidelines towns need to follow when restoring covered bridges in order to receive federal funds. John answered that the State Historic Preservation has guidelines, tied into the National Preservation effort, and the Federal Highway Administration recognizes the State Preservation Office and their guidelines. Before the Federal Highway Administration will commit any money they want the State Historic Preservation to sign off on a proposal. That goes "hand in hand" to getting any federal money.
John stated that bridge watch people could go to a town in their area and offer their services for traffic control, etc. when the town is in the process of restoring a bridge. Neil Daniels commented that people in an area could get together as a group in getting a work party together, or "bird dog" the selectmen and road foreman to see that they do what you determine should get done. John stated that different towns will receive you and your input in different ways. This could depend on their insurance coverage and whether or not you would be covered in case of an accident.
Ron Bechard asked what the liability situation is for VCBS members on a bridge watch duty. John answered that it would depend on what that particular town has for insurance coverage since the town is the bridge owner. Joe Nelson stated the VCBS use only people who volunteer their services. "We don't send anyone." Neil stated that if you're in an area at risk it would be best to take the position of forcing the town to do the work since they are insured. Bill McKone suggested a plan be developed by VCBS such as a standard "sandwich board" set up on both sides of a bridge being worked on, that would notify drivers that VCBS members are working around and inside the bridge. Neil said that VCBS work party people could go to their town and borrow the stop/slow sign and have a bridge watch person regulate traffic in that manner. Safety is an upmost concern for anyone working on bridge clean up.
Joe asked about utilizing local Boy Scout Organization to help with cleaning around covered bridges. After the clearing, the brush could be transported via pick up trucks to a central location where a chipper has been set up. Perhaps the town road crew could be asked to operate their chipper and do that portion of the clean up job.
Anyone becoming a bridge watch person should meet with the select board of that town, and together, come up with a plan of where we are and where we want to be in 20 years concerning their covered bridges. Bridge watch persons could point out to the select board what needs to be done in order to maintain the bridge for use and for enjoyment.
Neil recommended that every bridge watch person go to their Town Hall and get documents of the most recent Federal Mandated Bridge Inspection done by Montpelier. Even earlier documents would be helpful as some mandates are "built on previous mandates". This would also make bridge watchers aware what the town has been told they must do to fix a bridge and you could see if the town has done these mandates. Bridge watchers could be part of that enforcement program. Snow loads are something that bridge watchers should keep an eye on. Towns are sometimes lax on this. Are approach rails in reasonable condition? According to John, towns can get grants to repair approach rails and to put roofing on their bridges. Some town select boards need to be made aware that these grants are available. If you see someone do damage to a bridge, and they can be caught, they will be liable for the damage. The driver's insurance companies should be notified.
A discussion was held concerning proper load limits. The select board usually installs a sign stating the proper load limit on a recommendation from the AOT professional engineers. Neil stated there are times when select boards will go with a higher load limit than a bridge that is being worked on will tolerate. If this happens, the person working on renovating the bridge has no choice but to do more extensive structure member replacement than planned. John stated the town has the right to post less than 16,000 lbs. if they wish.
Neil stated the ideal situation would be to have 2 or 3 people in a bridge watch group in their town who are recognized and respected by the select board and who would be invited by the select board before budget forming time to address the select board concerning needed money for work and repair on the covered bridges. Bridge watching is extremely important because this is one way to make towns accountable and not let bridges deteriorate to where extensive repair and a lot of money is needed to bring them back to a useable condition.
It was the consensus of the assembled group that bridge watch people should come from the town where the bridge is located. These people are the taxpayers and voters of that town and are more likely to be welcomed by the select board.
Joe suggested that VCBS members make themselves known to local Historical Societies and local Chamber of Commerce groups to perhaps create some interest and help from them in caring for our covered bridges. Wilfred Thompson suggested film presentations be offered to these other organizations. It would be an opportunity to show them the condition of their bridges and offer ideas on how they could help.
Neil Daniels advised those assembled that the National Park Association is embarking on a national covered bridge research project for the Federal Highway Administration. This is in addition to the one the Federal Highway is currently doing (a separate group). A meeting is being held in Washington, D.C. the first part of Feb. and Mr. Daniels has been invited to attend, which he is planning to do.
Mr. Weaver hopes that bridge watch people will notify him via mail or e-mail when work has been done on a bridge in their area. There is a checklist which was distributed at the workshop which can be used as a form. The form could be sent in quarterly.
Many Bridge-watch areas are in need of people to step forward and become a bridge watch person.
The meeting adjourned at 3:30 p.m. This transcript made by Ruth Nelson.
[This file was originally posted February 21, 2002]