Sartell Bridge spared demolition

Photo of one of the three Camelback through truss spans.

SARTELL, MINNESOTA- At about this time last year, the future of the Sartell Bridge, a 1914 three-span Camelback through truss bridge that was built by the Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Company was up in the air, as a huge fire destroyed a vast portion of the 100-year-old Verso Paper Company in May 2012, prompting the immediate and permanent closure of the company, putting over 250 workers on the unemployment line. The Sartell plant was sold to the conglomerate AIM Development Inc. for $12 million, with its plan to optimize the facility.

Since September 2013, the old Verso facility is being demolished, bit by bit, as part of AIM’s plan to redevelop the area for reuse. The plan was approved by the city council, and called for the complete demolition of the facility, with the exception of the dam, the old hydroelectric power plant and a pair of buildings that belonged to Verso prior to the fire.

And as for the bridge?  Well, according to the city’s development coordinator in correspondance with the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, the creme-colored vintage bridge spanning the Mississippi River at the paper site will be spared, as it is not part of the demolition plans.  Is this good news? Yes and no. The bridge is one of the main points of interest that is beloved by the Sartellians and historians alike. Yet as the bridge is currently not listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as confirmed by the State Historic Preservation Office in St. Paul, it does put the sturcture in a vulnerable position, for most non-listed bridges are more likely to meet the wrecking ball than those that are either listed or elgible for listing.

But it does not mean automatically that the bridge will eventually be demolished, for the redevelopment plan that is being put together by the City and AIM may also include reutilizing the bridge. Since its closure in 1984 because the current structure, located 700 feet downstream, is serving traffic, the bridge has been used to transport utility lines across the Mississippi, even though at one time it was open to pedestrians. It is possible with Verso becoming history by October, that the plan to reopen the old bridge to pedestrians will be brought to the table for approval. If this is the case, then people will not have to worry about security personnel keeping them off the bridge, as was the reason for the structure being restricted to utility use only in the early 1990s. Instead, a safer but key access between the old Verso site and Watab Creek Park through a historic crossing known to Sartell for 100 years will be open to all to use for all time to come.

Sartell Bridge with the Verso Paper Company in the background. At this time next year, this bridge will be the last one standing. Photo taken in December 2010

More on the Sartell Bridge’s dire state can be found here with some questions to ponder.