Community seethes and government apologizes for burning of historic bridge remnants

Residents and a historian in Hoyt, N.B., are angry that construction crews burned the remnants of a local historic bridge in a barrel.

Construction workers were seen collecting wood from the Bell bridge debris piles and burning it in barrels

The Bell Bridge stood for its last full day on Jan. 18, 2018. Construction workers started to burn wood from the bridge in barrels before the structure was demolished. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Residents and a historian in Hoyt, N.B., are angry that construction crews burned the remnants of a local historic bridge in a barrel. 

Construction crews that tore down and replaced the flood-damaged Bell Bridge could be seen burning portions of the 87-year-old covered bridge after it was demolished last week. 

Construction crews could be seen burning wood from the Bell Bridge before the structure was completely taken down on Thursday of last week. The Bell Bridge was completely demolished on Jan. 19, 2018. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

"I think they're making a joke of it, a mockery," said Wayne Kirkpatrick, a farmer who has lived in the community his entire life. "There's a lot of people in the community that would have liked to have a piece of that bridge just for a memento."  

Kirkpatrick said burning the iconic bridge was as disrespectful as "spitting on the Bible." 

Bridge couldn't be saved

Local residents had tried to save a portion of the historic bridge after was deemed unsalvageable by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure following severe flood damage two weeks ago. 

"If we could have got something from it to re-erect it at our historical site... we certainly would have liked to have it at our site to bring attractions in," said Larry Welton, president of the Patterson Settlement Historical Society. 

Larry Welton, president of the Patterson Settlement Historical Society, says he was disappointed not only that a portion of the Bell Bridge could not be saved, but that workers were burning portions of its remains. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Welton says he understands the bridge couldn't be saved, especially because there are about a dozen people living on the other side in Juvenile Settlement whose travel is limited in the bridge's absence. 

But he's not happy about construction crews burning the wood from the remains of the bridge. 

"I heard that this morning that they were just burning some wood off it and that is kind of a shame," said Welton. "I really don't want to see that for sure." 

Currently the site of the Bell Bridge is guarded around the clock by a security firm hired to keep people away from the construction area.

Government apology

Last week an email from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure stated "Everything will be salvaged from the site. Once the parts have been removed, staff will determine what, if anything, can be re-used." 

Construction crews could be seen burning bridge boards on Jan. 18 in temperatures of –5 and again on Jan. 22, 2018 in  temperatures of –9. 

Wayne Kirkpatrick, a farmer who has lived in Hoyt his entire life says burning part of the Bell Bridge he grew up with is 'disrespectful' and 'like spitting on the Bible.' (Shane Fowler/CBC News)

When asked about crews burning portions of the bridge, department spokesperson Jeremy Trevors said that it seems the crews were burning debris in order to stay warm.

"We will discourage that in the future and we apologize if it offended anyone in the community," he wrote via email. "In the case of the Bell Bridge, the department managed to save a variety of items from the bridge, including signs and wood. These will be placed at one of DTI's depots until we are able to work with the Department of Tourism Heritage and Culture on an approach for commemoration."

Repurposed value 

A local craftsman who uses repurposed wood from old structures says it's the stories in the vintage material — like the hundreds of names carved into the wood of the now-destroyed Bell Bridge —  that gives the material great value  

"There's a history behind it, there's a story behind it, and there's certainly value behind it," said Tim Cressman, owner of Elwood's Wood Lab in Saint John.  "So for sure, if it's at all possible, it shouldn't be tossed." 

A construction worker could be seen rummaging through the debris pile of the Bell Bridge before throwing the wood onto a fire in a barrel. The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure has issued an apology and says the burning of materials will be discouraged in future. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Cressman says his company can't get their hands on enough old wood for their projects. He said wood that had been treated or has spent its lifetime in an outdoor structure can be more challenging to work with, but still hold a lot of value. 

"I understand from a logistical perspective that it's hard for somebody tearing down these buildings to consider those steps," said Cressman."It's easy just to bring a bulldozer in there, or a backhoe in, and gather it up and throw it in a dumpster. I think if the logistics can be worked out where the government agencies that are tearing these down can take a 'separation step' with this stuff and then let the community got to work and do the rest and sort it, it would be well worth it for the heritage in it."