ROCKINGHAM, VT, December 30, 2010 - When the state offered to modernize the historic Worrall Covered Bridge, it might have been a little too modern for the town of Rockingham.
The Rockingham Selectboard is questioning a $100 monthly charge that the Vermont Agency of Transportation says the town owes for a new fire security system that was installed when the bridge was rehabilitated this year.
Interim Municipal Manager Francis "Dutch" Walsh told the Selectboard at its last meeting that he received a call from transportation agency project manager Mark Sargent about the monthly fee, which Sargent explained will be paid to a security company that will run the fire protection service.
"When I first got the call, it came as a total surprise to me," Walsh told the Reformer on Tuesday. "We knew the work was done but I have not been able to find a record of it anywhere. I have not seen anything that said there would be a fee for the electrical fire protection system."
The 87-foot Worrall Covered Bridge was built in 1868 and spans the Williams River, just off of Route 103 in Bartonsville.
The Vermont Agency of Transportation announced in 2008 that the bridge would receive almost $1 million in repairs, and between the spring of 2009 and the summer of 2010 the bridge was completely renovated. The bridge received a new roof and new bottom chords and many parts of the siding and lattice work were replaced.
In the end, the state spent about $800,000 on the bridge, and Agency of Transportation Spokesman John Zicconi said the town has to keep up its end of the bargain by paying for the fire protection system.
"VTrans believes this kind of alarm is prudent to help protect this historic resource and investment," Zicconi said in an e-mail. "The town, during the project's development, agreed, and we installed one. But being a town-owned bridge it is the town's responsibility to maintain and pay for the system once the project is complete."
He said it is a relatively new stipulation to have towns take on the monthly fees, and said every covered bridge is unique and requires its own safety and protection considerations.
Zicconi said that even though the state paid for 100 percent of the renovations with state and federal money, the town owns the bridge and the state is trying to complete the paperwork to close the project.
As part of that process the town of Rockingham has to provide contact information and agree to take on the $1,200 in annual fees to keep the fire protection system active.
"As part of the agreement regarding the Worrall Covered Bridge, the town of Rockingham agreed to properly maintain and protect the bridge, which includes a fire alarm system" said Zicconi. "While VTrans is not in the business of policing day-to-day how well towns live up to their agreement, we do assume that the town will take its agreement with us seriously and do what it can to properly maintain and protect the considerable investment that is made when we rehabilitate a covered bridge."
The bridge contract was signed by former Municipal Manager Jim Mullen, but Walsh said he has not found any documents that say the town would be on the hook for the fire protection system.
At the Selectboard meeting last week, board member Ann DiBernardo said it might make sense to invest in some kind of protection for the historic structure.
"These are irreplaceable structures," she said. "We should do something to protect them".
But the other board members seemed less willing to invest the taxpayers' money in the system.
Selectboard Chairman Tom MacPhee wondered what even the best alarm system could do if the wooden structure caught fire.
"What are the odds of this alarm saving it anyway," said MacPhee. "It doesn't make sense to spend $1,200 on a system that may or may not be effective."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at http://email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.
1. NOTICE: This article is copyrighted and appears here with the permission of writer Howard Weiss-Tisman. Our thanks to him, the Brattleboro Reformer and to Tony and Neil Daniels for forwarding this story - Ed.