BEECH HILL - The Municipality of Chester has set aside about $2 million for the possible replacement of the multi-use trail bridge that crosses the Gold River between the Chester Basin and Beech Hill communities.
The local government committed about $500,000 in 2022-23 and is counting on other levels of government to come up with the rest.
"That's a big project and there's a lot of money budgeted for the construction and repair of the existing bridge but we're also looking at alternative options; we haven't come to any conclusions on that," Allen Webber, warden of the municipality, said in an interview. "It's very critical to the trail system, in the broader sense."
Civic politicians agreed to short-term measures of permitting pedestrians and cyclists to detour down Croft Road, across the Gold River vehicular bridge, to Beech Hill Road and on to a detour through the Acadia First Nations (AFN) property to the trail. Council tasked municipal staff with preparing a procurement "for the consideration of a new (replacement) trail bridge."
The municipality pinpointed the cost of providing the detour through AFN lands at about $15,000.
Jennifer Webber, a spokesperson for the municipality, said the request-for-proposals is in the works but, considering the number of partners involved like provincial government departments and Indigenous Peoples, the process has been lengthy.
The existing former railway bridge, a Chester Connection Trail link, is more than 100 years old and has been closed and barricaded for about eight months following a preliminary inspection report by an engineering firm that found "multiple structural concerns," forcing the span to close to pedestrians and off-highway vehicles in September 2021 for public safety reasons.
A 126-page condition assessment report conducted by an Upper Tantallon engineering company and a shorter summary of findings provided to council were also posted on the municipality's website.
Able Engineering Services outlined four option. The most costly recommendation ($4 million) was replacement of the structure at the site, with the potential of refurbishing, reconfiguring and maintaining the existing stone masonry piers. The least expensive suggestion was to abandon and decommission the existing structure without replacement. Estimated cost: $1 million.
The summary report points out the main structural components of the bridge, considered at least a generation past its intended lifespan, are in dire straits. Failed central bearings, degraded steel girders and breakdowns of timber trestles are among the problems as outlined in the documentation.
"It is highly unlikely that the bridge will fall tomorrow, next week, or next year," said the summary. "But the engineers cannot say with 100 per cent certainty that it won't."
In a written report to council, Gord Tate, the municipality's active living coordinator, said the municipality has limited authority over what happens with the bridge.
"Our letter of authority from the Province of Nova Scotia states the (municipality) shall ensure that the trail and any related structures are properly maintained," Tate said. "However, (the municipality) holds no jurisdiction over the facility and land-use decisions that need to be made."