BURGEO, NL – A strong tidal surge destroyed the Messieurs Bridge around 4 p.m. on Sunday, Dec 10.
The bridge connected Messieurs – technically an island – to the rest of Burgeo. Town manager Blaine Marks estimates a wooden bridge has existed across the inlet for the better part of a century.
“It was there when we moved here in the sixties,” said Marks via telephone. “It did get repaired, upgraded in the early seventies. I guess the old bridge was there … probably in the early 1900s.”
Steven Hiscock witnessed the surge that eventually proved too much for the aging bridge.
“It was like a strange tide. It came in really fast, built up, and shot right back out again,” he said.
Marks estimates the water rose about four or five feet above its usual level.
“The tides were unreal,” he said.
Marks also reported that some residents moved quickly to tie off bigger pieces of the wreckage to keep it from damaging wharves, vessels or other parts of the harbour, and that some people are now salvaging and repurposing whatever they can.
Former mayor Gerald MacDonald told the Gulf News he hadn’t seen any weather forecasts or marine warnings about a possible tidal surge.
MacDonald says for many residents and particularly seniors, the bridge saved around a half hour of walking around the harbour to reach the main part of town. During his tenure as mayor, MacDonald had attempted to get the bridge repaired.
“It was on council’s agenda and unfortunately it came off council’s agenda,” said MacDonald, who lives in the Messieurs area and grew up around the bridge.
Two years ago, engineers advised town council to close the bridge, and signs were posted warning pedestrians of the risk. MacDonald says that hardly curbed usage, and not just by residents seeking a shortcut. The picturesque bridge also drew tourists and even the occasional fisher who would drop a line in the water and enjoy the view of the harbour.
“Certainly, as a citizen I think it should be replaced, and the quicker the better,” said MacDonald. He has a brother-in-law who is 87 and used the bridge several times a day.
Marks and current mayor John Savoury both say a new bridge is not likely, and that the town tried for funding as recently as 2015.
“We’ve already looked into it,” said Marks. “We applied, because the bridge has been closed for just about three years, but we were not successful in getting any funding because basically there’s access to that area by vehicle. There’s a paved road going to the Messieurs area.”
Savoury said the subject of the bridge came up again in November during a meeting with Burgeo-LaPoile MHA Andrew Parsons.
“Back then… I think it was 2015 or 2016… they (engineers) estimated that it would cost (over $600,000 to replace the bridge),” said Savoury via telephone. “And Andrew Parsons said the government will not fund bridges anymore. It’s only roads.”
While Savoury appreciates that the bridge provided a convenience for residents and even drew tourists, he also notes the town has more pressing concerns, as it is in the process of re-applying to continue work to repair the town’s aging water system infrastructure.
“We applied for phase three, which was $2.3 million, and we got turned down, and now we’re trying for it again,” said Savoury. “If you apply for that bridge, you’re not going to get any money anyway. And even if you could, you’re looking at three-quarters of a million dollars or more. We need water lines replaced more so than a bridge.”