Budget gaps too wide for old Brown County bridges

Farm Forum

Some local farmers could face longer trips to their fields if weight restrictions on seven township bridges are lowered to a point where they won’t allow most farm equipment.

Brown county officials will ponder what to do with the bridges in weeks to come. Closing the bridges is an option, but reducing their load limits seems more palatable.

Jan Weismantel, county highway superintendent, told commissioners last week that inspections in 2012 show that weight limits for 21 bridges on township roads have to be lowered. The suggested limits for seven of the bridges are 10 tons or less. That’s a key level, she said, because few farm implements weigh less than 10 tons.

Before any decision on how to proceed is made, Weismantel will ask Clark Engineering, the firm that did the inspections, to update commissioners on what was learned. No date for that meeting has been set.

Weismantel said she knows that closing bridges or lowering weight limits could be unpopular with neighboring landowners. But given the results of the inspections and the liability the county could face if a bridge would collapse with a heavy load on it, options are limited. The department doesn’t have anywhere near enough money to replace all of the bridges, she said.

The inspections are required for the county to get federal funding, Weismantel said. In many cases, the federal government will pay for 80 percent of bridge construction costs.

Mike Grote lives on 373rd Avenue just across the border into Edmunds County, but he owns land on both sides of one of the seven Brown County bridges that will likely have their weight limits adjusted. The bridge crosses Snake Creek on 140th Street, about a quarter mile into Brown County.

Grote said he understands the county’s financial crunch. But closing the bridge or even restricting farm implements and equipment from using the bridge would be a hardship, he said.

The bridge isn’t wide enough to get a swather across, Grote said. But he has crossed it with tractors, bailers and rakes. He hays land on the east side of the creek. Because he has pastureland on both sides of the bridge, he crosses it nearly daily. That’s especially true from spring through fall, when he has to check his cattle.

“I guess it’d be a disappointment if we were to lose it,” he said of the bridge.

The new suggested load limit of the bridge is 5 tons. If the county restricts farm equipment from the bridge, that would likely cover liability concerns, Grote said. But he thinks people would continue to cross the structure with heavier loads.

Grote said that if implement restrictions are put in place, he would have to drive an extra three and a half miles with his tractor and bailer, for instance, to get to the east side of the creek. And, he said, driving the equipment down gravel roads causes wear and tear.

Daryl Streckfuss lives on 139th Street a mile north of the bridge. He also owns farmland and pastureland on each side of it. He said it wouldn’t cause much of a hassle if lower weight restrictions were put on the bridge. He’s taken a bailer over it on occasion, but is leery of crossing it with heavy equipment.

More than anything, Streckfuss said, he crosses the bridge in his pickup. Pheasant hunters also use the bridge a lot in the fall, he said. Even if the bridge would close, Streckfuss wouldn’t be upset.

“It’s an inconvenience, but it’s nothing that’s going to create a hardship or anything,” he said. “I understand.”

Aside from being old, the bridge is narrow. So, Streckfuss said, most of his farm equipment can’t fit between the railings anyhow. The few extra miles don’t phase him.

Bridges on township roads in Brown County have to be inspected every other year. That was done last year, even though the findings were only recently returned to the county. The county is charged with overseeing any bridge longer than 20 feet, even if the crossings are on township roads, she said. There are 110 so-called “off-system” bridges the county maintains. Those are bridges on township, not county roads. Some of them are box culverts