GROTON — With favorable momentum gathered from fall Town Meeting, members of the Greenway Committee acted quickly to take advantage of the situation by moving forward in their ultimate goal of replacing an unsafe Fitch’s Bridge.
Aiming to have a warrant article seeking funds to pay for the work prepared in time for a special Town Meeting scheduled for February, committee members met Nov. 26 to begin strategizing on the best way to make their argument to voters.
Realizing that they had set themselves a tight schedule and that events were moving very quickly, committee members agreed that “the goal was to get there and in one piece.”
The idea of replacing Fitch’s Bridge has been a dream of local planners for many years, especially to those interested in creating an interconnected trail system through town.
Built and installed in the late 19th century by the Berlin Iron Bridge Co. of Connecticut, Fitch’s Bridge forms an important link between Groton proper and West Groton.
The bridge has been closed to auto traffic since the 1960s and in recent times has been used mostly by sun-worshiping teenagers looking for a good spot from which to jump into the Nashua River.
An earlier effort to find money for replacement of the bridge with the Community Preservation Committee went nowhere when it became apparent that it would be more expensive for the town overall to take that route than in raising the funding needed independently.
With no other alternative, the Greenway Committee sponsored an article at fall Town Meeting seeking to raise funds to pay for a plan to remove the existing bridge and a design for a new one.
That measure passed muster with residents and the firm of Fay, Spofford & Thorndike (FST) were hired to do the work.
With advice from FST to hold a public hearing on the issue as soon as possible, committee members decided to schedule one for the evening of Dec. 18, following a meeting with the Board of Selectmen on Dec. 3, at which pursuit of a single warrant article covering removal and replacement of Fitch’s Bridge would be recommended.
Pursuing a single article covering the cost of both parts of the project rather than dividing the request in two was the subject of lengthy debate among committee members at their meeting of Nov. 26.
In attendance was Board of Selectmen member Jack Petropoulos, who cautioned the committee about making sure they would be prepared to defend their request on Town Meeting floor.
Petropoulos’ opinion carried some weight due to his chairmanship of the Center Fire Station Building Committee and its successful passage of related articles at the spring and fall Town Meetings.
As for the combined cost of removal and replacement of the bridge, a final amount has not yet been determined but committee members expected to have something from its consultants by the middle of December.
As things stand, current plans call for removal of the existing bridge and its replacement by a new, truss style, 10-foot wide span intended for pedestrians and bicyclists.
With time and the need for public support of the essence, the Greenway Committee plans to mount a whirlwind community-outreach campaign over the coming weeks, the purpose of which is to make sure Town Meeting is informed and knowledgeable on the issues surrounding the need for replacement of Fitch’s Bridge.
The Board of Selectmen has scheduled Feb. 2 as the date for special Town Meeting.