NEW SHARON — A nearly 100-year old iron bridge downtown will be demolished after the three-person select board unanimously approved the state’s offer to demolish the structure.

The Maine Department of Transportation department told the town that the Sandy River bridge is in imminent danger of falling into the river, and said the state will pay to have it removed.

If the town had rejected the offer and the bridge collapsed, residents would have been responsible for clean up costs and any damage downstream from the collapse, according to the department.

There is no timeline yet for the state to remove the bridge and state transportation officials are working to obtain the necessary permits, said Maynard Webster, chairman of the select board, which voted on the bridge demolition Wednesday.

Selectman Forrest Bonney said while a couple residents suggested waiting until the annual Town Meeting to let the voters weigh in on the state’s offer, he said selectmen couldn’t take the chance.

“It’s a great liability for the town,” he said.

The bridge, located parallel to the newer U.S. Route 2 bridge, was built in 1916 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The bridge is one of the last remaining bridges of its type of construction and the only one of its construction type in the state on the registry.

There have been multiple efforts to repair the bridge, but the efforts failed from a lack of funding.

Selectmen said a recent inspection by the transportation department revealed significant vertical cracking in the south abutment, leaving the bridge vulnerable to collapse into the river.

Bonney said most people who led a serious effort to restore the bridge have died.

Resident Kirk Butterfield, 55, said he thought the selectmen should not have made the decision to let the state tear it down, and should have instead had the voters decide at the annual Town Meeting.

Butterfield said he disagreed that the decision needed to be made immediately to prevent a collapse.

“I’m willing to bet it’s not a crisis situation,” he said.

Resident Anisa Welch, 48, said she supports the selectmen’s decision to pass the liability from the bridge on to the state, but said she understands why some residents have a hard time with it.

“It’s an emotional attachment,” she said. “That bridge, it is New Sharon.”

Selectmen estimated it would cost at least $2 million to repair the bridge.

Road Commissioner John Pond said the town hardly has the money to pay for necessary infrastructure work such as rebuilding roads, much less for restoring a defunct bridge.

“We can’t raise money for the roads, why spend it on this bridge?” he said.

Webster, longtime chairman of the select board, said he worked on several efforts to save the bridge, but said the time for saving it has passed.

“No one wanted it saved more than me, but it’s just not in the cards,” he said.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252[email protected]

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