GROTON -- Refusing to give up on the dream of restoring the 115-year-old Fitch's Bridge, the Greenway Committee will meet with Town Manager Mark Haddad to discuss the state of Groton's finances to find out if the budget could bear the cost of restoration.
"Fitch's Bridge has been on people's radar to restore or replace ever since it was closed to auto traffic in the early 1960s," said committee member Fran Stanley. "But so far we've not been able to find a way to get the project funded and done. Some people would like to see a restored connection between West Groton and Groton though. With an article on the town meeting warrant, we can give people a chance to say yes or no on the subject."
In visiting with the town manager, the committee will be testing the waters for restoration of Fitch's Bridge for the second time this year.
An earlier effort with the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) went nowhere when it became apparent that it would be more expensive for the town overall to take that route than in raising the funding needed independently.
"We examined it but there were not many CPC funds available," said Stanley. "And even if the project was approved, using matching state money would bump up the level of permitting and standards that the project would have to meet all of which would increase costs. So much so, that the increases might have ended up offsetting whatever contributions were made from the state. So, at this point, we are looking
Built and installed in the late nineteenth century by the Berlin Iron Bridge Co. of Connecticut, Fitch's Bridge is one of the few surviving examples of the company's product and as a result, something local historians would dearly love to preserve.
Restoring or replacing the disused bridge is something that has long concerned various town officials with the ideal being that it could be incorporated into Groton's walking trail network.
"There is support in town for restoration of the bridge," confirmed Stanley. "People in West Groton with fond memories of the bridge would like to see it open for use again, people in the recreation department would also like to see it restored as well as those in the bicycle and equestrian communities. All are very interested in seeing the bridge open again."
Connecting the bridge to existing trails was one of the goals in trying to settle the long simmering dispute between the town and resident Al Friedrich who has blocked access to the bridge with his claims that the town had lost its right of way along Jenkins Road after the river had washed out part of its embankment.
The town finally was able to conduct a survey of the area last year but a legal settlement ended including some good news and some bad news: the town did indeed still have a right of way to the bridge but it could only be accessed by officials doing business for the town.
Luckily however, a separate trail leading from the Fairgrounds would still allow access to the bridge should it ever reopen.
In the meantime, Stanley said the bridge itself has been declared unsafe and remains officially closed.
"We want to promote the health and use of the Nashua and Squannacook rivers and have people get out to enjoy the Nashua River either by boating on it or crossing it over Fitch's Bridge," said Stanley.
"The bridge is located at a beautiful spot along the river and since not everyone's going to be a boater, restoring it would be a nice way to bring the river to the people," he said. "Also, it could serve as a connection with a future portion of the rail trail and riding trails leading from the fairgrounds.
"We need to meet with Mark to try and get the question on the warrant," continued Stanley. "The main issue that came up at last week's meeting of the committee was making sure that there was going to be room in the town's budget to give voters the flexibility to agree to spend money either to repair or restore the bridge. The trick is to not go over the levy limit forcing an override."
Stanley said that with such potential spending items as a new Center Fire Station and sewer system for Lost Lake, the added cost of repairing Fitch's Bridge might push municipal expenses past the levy limit. If approved, however, bridge repair costs could be bonded so that payments would be spread over many years, easing the immediate burden to taxpayers.
"But there's a chance that even with the cost of repairing the bridge, spending might still come under the levy limit if other debts such as that for the library and Town Hall are being retired," said Stanley.
A date for the meeting with Haddad had not been scheduled.