Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Shawn Jansen
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Windemere discusses Sturgeon Island Bridge


Residents filled the Windemere Township Hall July 16 to give the township board input on the fate of the Sturgeon Island Bridge, one of the few covered bridges remaining in Minnesota.

First to present was Tom Wilson of Erickson Engineering, the firm hired to inspect the bridge and offer recommendations to the township board.

Wilson said, “The bridge is in poor condition.” He said the bridge was inspected by his firm four years ago and again in April, and the bridge has deteriorated to the point where his firm recommends all elements of the bridge be replaced except for two outside fascia. As for the cover, Wilson said the framing could be kept.

Wilson reviewed three options from his company’s report. The options all include the building of a bypass bridge to use during bridge work, and Wilson said engineering costs are about the same for each option and so were not included in the costs he presented:

– Option 1: Wilson reported that when rehabilitation of a bridge would cost more than 65 percent of the cost of replacement, it is Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) policy to recommend full replacement. Erickson Engineering determined the cost to rehab the bridge is 76 percent of the cost to replace it.

– Option 2: Although it carries the highest price tag, this option is recommended by Erickson’s because it is less costly to the township and the resulting structure would be long lasting. This project would qualify for the state’s town and bridge fund, limiting the township’s cost to $10,000 for engineering and $10,000 for construction, a total of $20,000 for a brand new structure.

– Option 3: Wilson explained that full replacement of the bridge to the current 14-foot width does not save the township much money for the bridge they would receive.

To receive state funding, Wilson said the options of rehabbing or replacing the bridge to its current 14-foot width would require a variance from the state, which he said was unlikely. To have the bridge built with no crash rail would also require a design exception.

Wilson said a brand new bridge would have a 70-year life expectancy while the rehab option would be expected to last 20-25 years. He said the current bridge might last five more years, with the approaches being the first to fail, and indeed, already are, according to residents’ comments.

Wilson said the firm would be happy to design whatever option is chosen. The township can have whatever bridge it wants if they are paying for it themselves.

He also stated the town and bridge account replenishes every year.

As for the cover, he said MnDOT did have a minimum vertical clearance requirement.

Wilson said the district engineers’ next meeting is in September for considering variances and exceptions, and the earliest something could happen with the bridge would be next construction season.

Historic preservation

Some of those attending wanted to know if the bridge qualified for funding for historic structures. It was said if the bridge is not registered as historic or eligible to be registered on the National Registry for Historic Places, it would not count as historic for funding purposes.

Someone estimated the process of having it recognized as historic would take up to a year, and wondered if the bridge has the time for that process. There is more expense and a longer process, “a whole new can of worms”.

Wilson said they can do “Band-Aid” fixes if this approach to the bridge restoration was taken. It was pointed out that other funding sources may or may not include engineering costs. Wilson indicated that while the firm does not specialize in historic restoration, they have done historic rehabilitation work and are currently working on a historic bridge.

Clerk Scott Danelski read an email from the Waldhalms that said Greg Waldhalm’s father built the bridge and that they would be willing to remove the cover to preserve it, but Greg and Gail’s wish is to keep it in place.

Wilson said in seeking funding for historic preservation, it helps to get the county involved.

Traffic safety

Other comments pertained to the safety effects the bridge has on traffic.

“I have never seen an accident on that bridge,” someone said.

Others explained that traffic is forced to slow down because the bridge is narrow and covered. Concerns were that speeds would increase if the bridge was wider and not covered.

“We would sacrifice safety,” was one comment.


Other questions related to whether or not people could fish from the bridge. Wilson said they could add outlooks to the design but the current costs do not include them.

Others wondered, with the 20-foot wide bridge, if the extra width could be used for a bike lane. Wilson said they could stripe the bridge to include a bike lane. Wilson said if the desire is to have a separate, safe trail, the bridge could be designed to be wider than 20 feet and incorporate one.

Wilson also mentioned that putting the same cover on a 20-foot wide bridge would limit the width to 14 feet. Supervisor John Wesely wondered if the cover could be added to a new bridge but leave off the ends to keep the openings wider.

Long-term maintenance

The Windemere Township Lakes Association owns the cover of the Sturgeon Island Bridge, while Windemere Township is responsible for the bridge. Each entity would be responsible for continued maintenance of the cover and bridge.

Jude Stephens, who is not a member of the lake owners association, said the association would have to do better on maintaining the cover. She was against an extra $200,000 for a covered bridge.

Sherry Lahti asked that a committee be formed to try and meet all three concerns of safety, history, and money and to get more information before a final decision is reached.

Vern Anderson commended the Windemere Board of Supervisors for having the second hearing.


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