LINCOLN — While the town is ready to seek bids to permanently replace the Loon Mountain Bridge over the east branch of the Pemigewasset River, a battle is brewing over what to do about a downstream levee.
Spanning the Pemigewasset, the Loon Mountain Bridge connects the Kancamagus Highway to the north with the Loon Mountain Resort to the south. The bridge was severely damaged on Aug. 28, 2011, by the river which was raging with some 10 inches of rain from Tropical Storm Irene.
A temporary bridge was quickly erected, and on Friday, Lincoln Town Manager Alfred "Butch" Burbank said bids for construction of the new structure will go out soon. He said construction is expected to begin in the spring and to last for up to 18 months.
The bridge replacement project will entail building a new bridge about 100 feet downstream from the current one and will cost about $9 million, the majority of which, said Burbank, will be covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state. Lincoln taxpayers will pick up 5 percent, or about $550,000 of the total tab.
Burbank said that when the new bridge is completed, the temporary one will be torn down.
Less certain, however, is what will happen to a more than 50-year-old levee located a short distance away, near the center of town. That levee, Burbank said, was also damaged by Tropical Storm Irene and by Superstorm Sandy.
At its Jan. 13 meeting, the Lincoln Board of Selectmen were informed that the consulting engineering firm, Dubois & King, had concluded that rehabilitating the levee could be done for $1.2 million. The levee was originally built to divert water from the Pemigewasset to a paper mill that no longer exists, Burbank said.
The selectmen have scheduled a public hearing on the funding request for 6 p.m. Thursday. Voters will ultimately decide the matter at Town Meeting on March 11.
The Army Corps of Engineers made the levee "inactive" in 2007, Burbank said. But for many years earlier, much development — some $10 million worth, according to the town manager —has taken place behind it. To protect that development, which generates tax revenue and includes several condominium communities, residences and part of a hotel, Burbank said the municipality would need to restore the levee to its original, 1960 standards.
"It's a controversial issue here in town," Burbank said.
Some residents are opposed to spending taxpayer dollars to protect and improve the value of private property, while still other residents are questioning whether the rehabilitated levee would perform as hoped, he said.