David Nevedomsky was offended Thursday when he saw a large pile of human excrement on the historic Two Cent Bridge, which spans the Kennebec River between Winslow and Waterville.
Nevedomsky said the waste, which included toilet paper, was the latest sign that the graffiti-covered footbridge, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, is neglected.
Thursday’s mess and the lack of anyone willing to clean it up also highlights the confusion over who’s responsible for the bridge’s upkeep.
Waterville and Winslow public works and law enforcement officials, as well as community groups involved in the bridge’s upkeep, all said Thursday that cleaning up human waste isn’t their responsibility.
City officials in Waterville, which owns the bridge, said the bridge is a regular target of vandals, making its maintenance difficult.
Nevedomsky, 58, who said he is a disabled Winslow resident who uses a cane to walk because of a damaged sciatic nerve, said he uses the bridge daily when he walks from Winslow to Waterville to shop.
He said he asked employees at both the Waterville and the Winslow municipal offices to help, but did not get a helpful response and took matters into his own hands.
“I’ll probably fall in but I don’t give a damn,” he said early Thursday afternoon, shortly before carrying a bucket down to the river’s edge to collect water to wash the bridge with.
“It offends me. If it doesn’t offend somebody, there’s something wrong with society.”
Municipal officials from both sides of the river said Thursday that they haven’t been asked to clean human filth from the bridge before.
Winslow Public Works Director Paul Fongemie said that in his three years with the town he’s never been asked to clean or maintain the bridge.
“If the town manager called and said, âHey, there’s poop on the bridge and we want you to go clean it up,’ I guess we would, but no one’s ever said that to me before,” he said.
Waterville Public Works Director Mark Turner said the city maintains the bridge on an as-needed basis, but that when it comes to cleaning up human waste, the public works department is not equipped to do the job.
“We can’t put our employees at risk,” he said. “We’re not trained to deal with hazardous materials or biological waste.”
Waterville Police Department Chief Joe Massey said it wouldn’t be up to his officers to field that kind of call, either.
“I’m not going to have officers go and pick that up,” Massey said. “We’re certainly not going to send uniformed officers down to do that.”
Local civic organizations have taken an interest in the bridge’s preservation, but their efforts haven’t extended to cleaning and maintenance.
The Waterville Sunrise Rotary Club has donated time and money to major projects on the bridge and the trail system, but it doesn’t address routine upkeep, said Chris McMorrow, the group’s sergeant of arms.
The bridge has also been supported by the Rotary Club of Waterville, but that club has the same position, according to club officer Peter Garrett, of Winslow. Garrett is also the president of Kennebec Messalonskee Trails, and he said he recognizes the problems posed by graffiti and other signs of neglect.
“Personally, I am concerned,” he said. “There has to be some organization, probably the town in this case, that picks up on it and takes leads from people and acts on them quickly because the vandalism of any kind is something that one has to expect, alas.”
Garrett said the graffiti and litter are endemic to life in an urban area, even a small one.
“You know, bad boys keep getting into the populace,” he said. “They grow up but more come to replace them.”
Turner said the Waterville Public Works Department doesn’t have the resources to keep up with vandals at the bridge.
“We’ve painted over the graffiti three or four times in the past five years,” he said. “They come right back and do it again. We go in there every summer.”
Turner said the graffiti issue is part of a larger pattern that has been a problem all across the city.
Massey said graffiti problems tend to come in waves, as isolated groups of young people take it up as a hobby, until they are caught or lose interest.
He said that the bridge, which links Waterville’s Head of Falls and Winslow’s municipal park area, is out of the way, which makes it more time consuming to patrol.
Police rarely get calls about criminal activity on the bridge, he said.
The bridge, named for the two-cent toll that was once collected from its pedestrians, was built by the Ticonic Footbridge Co. in 1901, mainly for mill workers who crossed the river to work. It was washed out by a flood and reconstructed in 1903.
Ever since, it has been a magnet for both public money and vandalism.
In 1973, toll collector Leon H. Crowell collapsed and died of a heart attack on the bridge as he was walking to the Winslow end to repair vandalism damage.
The bridge was closed shortly after that and became the site of littering and makeshift camps, with campfires damaging the floor of the toll house.
In every decade since the 1970s, the bridge has been opened, damaged, closed, the subject of repairs ranging from tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and reopened.
Shortly after the city of Waterville assumed ownership of the bridge in 1981, its cables were replaced and its trusses were shored up. Since then, more than $1 million in both public money and from nonprofit groups has gone into bridge repair and maintenance.
In 1990, the bridge nearly collapsed during a day-long rock concert during which several dozen revelers, angry about a rain cancellation, jumped on it in unison and caused it to sway. The resulting structural damage, estimated at $34,000, led to another $120,000 repair job in 1997.
In 2004, the toll booth was torn down and a new one was built, part of a $400,000 project funded by both the state and city.
In 2011, the city of Waterville undertook a $517,000 project, most of which came from state and federal funds, to upgrade the bridge with new decking, handrails and wind cables. At the time, city officials said they hoped the upgrade would help to attract new development. Money has also been spent on a park, information kiosk, lights and benches on the Waterville side.
Winslow, too, has an investment in the bridge, most recently in the form of a recent $307,000 project on the Kennebec Messalonskee Trails, a system that relies on the Two Cent Bridge to span the river.
Turner and Garrett both referred detailed questions to Waterville City Engineer Greg Brown, but he and City Manager Mike Roy did not return calls seeking comment Thursday afternoon.
The bridge is an important part of the city’s history and culture, Turner said.
“It’s been a work in progress and a very expensive one,” he said. “We want to make sure it stays nice.”