Historical commission directs funds for Dewey Bridge study

A fund-raising campaign to rebuild Dewey Bridge got a jumpstart this month when the Grand County Historical Preservation Commission approved some funding for a feasibility study.

The county historical board voted unanimously at its quarterly meeting July 9 to apply $1,000 in grant funds toward the costs of hiring a consultant and conducting a metallurgical analysis to determine if remaining parts of the bridge can be salvaged and used safely, and whether it is feasible to reconstruct the bridge as an historical structure or better to rebuild it primarily as the bike link to the Kokopelli Trail.

The $1,000 is a matching grant from the Utah Certified-Local Government program of the State Department of History. The money is matched by county funds, and will be added to $465 in private donations that have been sent to the county – unsolicited funds donated by people who support the bridge rebuilding project. The historical preservation commission also plans to use $2,500 from a Dewey Bridge maintenance fund to get the study efforts underway, said Bruce Louthan, the group’s chairman.

“The money is to be [used for] hiring engineers to draw up plans and talk about material costs, and to create a budget,” said Travis Schenck, co-chairman of the Dewey Bridge Project Committee, which organized last April with support of the Grand County Council. Schenck, director of the Museum of Moab, is helping direct the effort as a member of a subcommittee of the Sites and Places Committee chaired by Dale Irish. A member of the historical commission, Irish and his wife Wilda led the original fund-raising campaign to restore Dewey Bridge in 1998. The restored bridge was rededicated in 2000. The bridge was destroyed by fire on April 6.

Commissioners unanimously consented to direct grant funds to the bridge effort this year rather than pursue a feasibility study on reconstructing the Elk Mountain Mission Fort of 1855. Until there is a place to put the fort, a feasibility study on reconstruction would have to wait, Louthan said. Meanwhile, the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, which owns the stone monument to the fort, are raising funds to update the interpretive plaque so that it indicates the exact location of the original fort.

The monument has been moved twice and is currently embedded in concrete near the DUP building, but still states that the Elk Mountain Mission is 800 feet from the monument. The monument was originally near the old fort site that gave way to a Motel 6, then was moved again from the Moab Chamber of Commerce building when it was sold to a new property owner.

“The DUP won’t let the monument move again,” Louthan told the commission.

Commissioner Vicki Barker submitted a summary of comments from Grand County Engineer Mark Wright, also a member of the Dewey project ad hoc committee, who estimated that re-decking the 600-square-foot bridge with modern composite trex-type timbers could cost $200-$300 per square foot – for a total cost of about $1 million to $1.5 million.

To reconstruct the bridge to federal historical standards would cost much more, especially as time passes and building costs rise, commission members said. Wright said a rule of thumb is to figure design costs at 10 percent of the total budget. The county would need to allow a “construction season” for completion – a window of one year, once a contractor is hired, Wright said.

Wright cautioned that his figures were based on the presumption that the alloy cables had withstood damage from the fire because the blaze spread quickly and involvement of the metals would have been brief. Also, the towers are made of steel and rivets and since there is still paint on the towers, Wright deducted they were subjected to low-heat exposure and survived the fire without much damage.

Schenck said Friday that he will be contacting the committee co-chairman in Grand Junction, Colo., to schedule another meeting. The engineer of the original restoration has the bridge drawings and is expected to make some suggestions, and a resident of Glenwood Springs, Colo. has offered to do a cost-analysis on different options, Schenck said.

He said a few longtime residents have expressed opposition to reconstructing the bridge, as they don’t like the idea of a “replica.” The commission encouraged Schenck to plan a town hall meeting with a panel of experts to debate the pros and cons of rebuilding, to encourage community participation in the decision.