DRESDEN — A high tide and cold steel, combined with careful planning, did what Mother Nature only did once in 84 years — take out entire sections of the old Richmond-Dresden bridge.

This time, it was on purpose.

Reed and Reed, the Woolwich-based contractor that built the new, $18.6 million bridge that opened to traffic in December and now towers over the rusted remains of the old bridge it replaced, removed the second of five large truss sections of the old bridge Friday.

Technically, the rising Kennebec River tide did most of the heavy lifting.

Reed and Reed workers, Thursday afternoon at low tide, placed a barge under an entire bridge truss section, then shimmed in steel and wood cribwork between the barge and the old bridge.

“Then you wait for the tide to lift the span off the bearings” and off the concrete piers upon which the old bridge spans rest, said Charlie Guerette, project engineer for Reed and Reed. “It lifted off about quarter to eight (Friday) morning.”

The barge, with the large bridge span resting on top, was then moved by a tugboat to a work area on the Dresden side of the river to be dismantled.

Guerette said it’ll take about a week for workers, using cutting torches and a hydraulic sheer, to cut up the aged steel bridge sections, which then will be hauled off by Clark’s Eastside Scrap, in Chelsea, to be recycled.

The section removed Friday morning was the second and last section to be removed until the weather warms back up and the thickening ice leaves the river. The remaining three sections probably will be removed in late March or April.

That’s because, Guerette said, it was getting too hard to move the barges around the river ice. This week workers kept the ice from freezing up around the barges by, a few hours each day, driving Reed and Reed’s tugboat around the area, breaking up the ice.

The old bridge was built in 1931.

In 1936, a major ice jam took out multiple sections of the bridge and carried them downriver, and they were later replaced.

Using the tide to remove an entire large bridge section, instead of cutting it up piece by piece or using other methods, is unusual but not unheard of, according to Peter Brown, manager of the Richmond-Dresden bridge project for the state Department of Transportation.

“I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’ve only seen it done this way once or twice,” Brown said. “Obviously, you’ve got to have a tide that’s available and a contractor setup to utilize it. It’s a little bit out of the norm, but Reed and Reed is equipped to do it. For them, it’s an efficient way.”

The first of the two truss sections was removed earlier this month and already has been cut up and scrapped.

The next parts of the old bridge to be removed will be the concrete piers that protrude from the river and held the steel bridge above the water.

Guerette said above the water, an excavator with a ram on it will be used to pound away at the piers to break them up so they can be removed. The underwater pieces of the piers probably will be broken up by dropping a ball or wedge on them from a crane.

Guerette said they’ll probably have the entire old bridge removed by around June.

Brown said the deadline for the bridge to be removed isn’t until December.

“They’ll be done well ahead of that,” Brown said. “Reed and Reed has done a good job. We’re ahead of schedule and on budget, and we’ll be out of here, probably, six months early.”

Brown said crews will come back to finish off the new bridge when the weather warms up in the spring. He said stripes will be added to mark the sides of the travel lanes. The centerline, which is already wearing off, will be repainted. He said it got too cold to paint stripes on the sides of the road.

“We were barely able to get it paved by the deadline” as temperatures dropped last fall, Brown said.

An old farmhouse on the Richmond side of the river and near the bridge, which rises sharply from the riverbank to its peak 75 feet above the water at high tide and 115 feet above the water at low tide, will be torn down as part of the project. The home, previously owned by Paul and Jill Adams, was purchased by the state because the bridge passed by so close to the home it presented a safety issue, Brown said. The state transportation department and Reed and Reed have used the home as offices during the project, but it will be torn down.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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