What to do with a staple structure of Chippewa Valley is up in the air.
A large portion of the Chippewa County Board meeting Tuesday night was dedicated to the discussion of the Cobban Bridge in Jim Falls.
The bridge, which is more than 100 years old, has been closed since Aug. 2, 2017, because of deterioration and safety concerns, and plans to build a new bridge to take its place have been approved and are moving forward.
Brian Kelley, highway commissioner, said closure of the bridge was an expected occurrence and plans to move forward with a new structure have been received well by the Chippewa County community.
“I didn’t get any complaints,” Kelley said. “People kind of knew it was coming, I think. Most of the feedback is still positive, and people are glad we’re going to be building a new bridge at that location.”
Kelley offered an update about the $6 million bridge project, including a few delays.
Initially, officials hoped to finish the bridge in 2021, but that has been pushed back slightly.
Kelley said the current plan is to begin the final design process this fall before the water surrounding the bridge freezes, finish those plans by the fall of 2021, seek bids from potential contractors in early 2022 and construct and finish the bridge between 2022-23.
Kelley said the delay in construction is due to the Wisconsin climate, slow-moving financial backing and for the protection of the area’s wildlife.
“We would really like it if this project could be done in one year, but we’re realizing it really can’t be with the environmental issues out there,” Kelley said. “We can’t be out there in the water 12 months out of the year, so it’s probably going to be a two-year-project.”
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As far as the preservation of the bridge’s long history, Kelley said the plan is to build a kiosk at the new site with history and photos of the former Cobban Bridge, as well as photo documentation to be preserved at the Chippewa County Historical Society in Chippewa Falls.
However, that effort was met with disdain by a group wishing to take it a few steps further in preserving the structure.
When it was announced the old bridge would be demolished, Charles Nagle and a small group of area residents decided to start a nonprofit organization entitled Cobban Bridge Preservation Inc. to attempt to save the bridge from destruction.
“When the public could get involved, we raised our hand and said building a kiosk is great, taking some photos and putting them in a library is great, but we think we’d like to move the bridge,” Nagle said. “A farmer across the highway from 178th said he liked the idea and will donate land to move it across the highway.”
M&E Farms in Jim Falls offered in writing to donate land to help Nagle and Cobban Bridge Preservation Inc., as well as help building a park on the property to house a portion of the bridge for passersby to drive over, see photos and learn history of the bridge, which was disassembled at Lake Wissota more than a century ago and transported and reassembled at its current location.
Nagle said the group has spent more than $12,000 since its formation trying to find contractors, spending money on fees for planning, equipment and other various costs all of which have come out of their personal pockets.
He said after a year of planning, members have the logistics figured out about how to move a portion of the bridge, but administrative challenges might hinder the bridge from being preserved during construction.
“As far as the technical challenges, we have it figured out,” Nagle said. “Everyone is confident we can successfully get one of those spans over into the cornfield, the other span would be taken out of the water, be taken apart and either sold for scrap or the lattice be taken off and given to a park. The administrative challenges, however, are enormous. The hurdles are high; there are an enormous amount of hurdles, and it is like trying to nail jelly to a tree. If we fail, it will be because of administrative challenges, not because of technical optimism.”
What might determine the fate of the old structure will be the amount of funding both parties receive, as the scrap metal from the bridge may or may not be included in the bids the contractors for the new bridge submit come construction time.