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Thawing ice causes damage in St. Lawrence County

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WANAKENA — Thawing ice has created problems in St. Lawrence County, including major damage to an historic walking bridge in Wanakena.

The rising water of the Oswegatchie River, choked with chunks of ice released by several days of above-zero temperatures, buckled the landmark footbridge Monday and flooded several homes in its vicinity.

“The ice let out at noon,” Rick F. Kovacs, proprietor of the Wanakena General Store, said Tuesday. “It flooded and took out the north side of the footbridge. It buckled the A-frame on the north side. It’s just a big ice field.”

The span originally was built in 1902 by the Rich Lumber Co., one-time operators of a timber tract and large sawmill. The bridge, which connects the middle of the hamlet with South Shore Road, initially was used by the company’s workers to get from their homes to the mill. The span joined the state and national registers of historic places in 1999.

Ice floes headed down the Oswegatchie River in the past have threatened the historic walking bridge, which was rebuilt in 1983. But this year’s damage is worse than any the span has suffered before.

“What they told me was that, in 1999, the bridge was separated from the foundation,” Fine Supervisor Mark C. Hall said. “This time, we’ve got foundation issues. This one’s going to require some structural engineering.”

Carrie M. Tuttle, Development Authority of the North Country engineering director, who was in the Clifton-Fine area Tuesday, was to take a preliminary look at the bridge, Mr. Hall said.

“Our general fund is not going to be able to absorb this one. There’s a lot of figuring to do,” he said. “I don’t think we could do anything with it at this point. It’s wedged in ice.”

Mr. Kovacs, whose son, Brooks W. Oliver, posted pictures of the damaged bridge on Facebook, said people already are in contact about sending donations to repair the span.

“We’ve got over 1,000 likes on Facebook,” he said. “It’ll get fixed. It will be rebuilt.”

The bridge is an integral part of Wanakena’s history, Mr. Hall said. “It’s really a point of pride for the community,” he said.

The river flowed over its banks, redirecting itself over South Shore Road, which could cause major problems if the water does not recede before freezing, Mr. Hall said. “There’s a half dozen or better houses that are going to have flood damage,” he said.

The sewer treatment plant was not flooded, although the water came within six inches of entering the facility, Mr. Hall said.

The thaw also caused damage at the 911 center in Canton, where melting ice hit the front entrance and dislodged some cinder blocks, St. Lawrence County Governmental Services Director Michael J. Cunningham told legislators Monday.

Danko Construction, Massena, which was the general contractor for the building in 1994, was called in to make temporary repairs and to assess why the damage happened.

The roof drains froze at the Canton Human Services Building and there was some flooding in Community Services, Mr. Cunningham said.

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