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The 100-year-old Deer Creek Road Bridge in Minam needs to be replaced per federal regulations. (Katy Nesbitt/The Observer)
Deer Creek Road Bridge in Minam doesn’t meet federal regulations
MINAM — A 100-year-old bridge spanning an ephemeral drainage into the Wallowa River doesn’t meet federal regulations and must be replaced, but state representatives are trying to find it a new home.
The Deer Creek Road Bridge is an integral piece of Minam history, the former bustling community of loggers and mill workers, where two counties meet and two rivers join.
The bridge has been in Minam as long as Agnes Roberts and Barbara Raines can remember, which is the early 1940s. But Rebecca Burrow, the state historian, said from the markings on the steel and the bridge’s style, she believes it to be roughly 100 years old. State representatives met with the former residents at Minam State Park earlier this week to listen to stories of the former logging town’s history.
Burrow said the bridge, called a pony truss, is one of 40 left in the state. The Deer Creek Road bridge and one in Crook County are the two largest.
Most were built by the state using state standards, but the Deer Creek Road Bridge was not, Burrow said. Other similarly built bridges were built by the Coast Bridge Co. Burrow said the state has copies of the company’s plans and contracts, and the Deer Creek Road Bridge isn’t listed there, either.
“The only information we have on the steel truss are markings on the steel, “J&L,” which may indicate it was made by Jones and Laughlin of Pittsburgh, Pa.,” Burrow said. “But, we have no other examples of Jones and Laughlin using J&L as an abbreviation.”
So the mystery of the bridge remains unsolved.
“We know Jones and Laughlin were using iron in the 1890s, but we don’t know when the mill mark changed,” Burrow said.
Though the exact details of the bridge’s construction are murky, Burrow said rivets, not pins, were used, evidence she uses to pinpoint its construction between 1910 and 1920.
The bridge holds significance for Roberts and Raines, who lived in Minam when their husbands logged the hills surrounding the canyon village. Roberts said the bridge survived the 1948 flood when a summer storm caused a flash flood, while the loggers were making their way home.
“As they came down the narrow road, water began to run past their wheels. They thought they might be in trouble and got out of their rigs and went up the hill as fast as they could,” Roberts said. “The rigs were flooded and a great big rock came down and sheered the water away from the bridge.”
Raines said her house was flooded and almost washed away.
Now, the bridge must be replaced because it is deemed structurally deficient, said Howard Postovit of the La Grande Oregon Department of Transportation’s regional office. Kevin Boyle of OBEC Consulting Engineers said they are scheduled to go out for bid in December, but fulfilling requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act, which determines eligibility of an historic designation, may take more time.
“We are using historians to ferret out where it came from,” Boyle said.
Boyle said part of the process includes the Federal Highway Administration and the state historic preservation to buy-off on an assessment of the bridge, something likely to be delayed until the issue is resolved.
“We do work for National Preservation and State Historic Preservation because we must meet regulations and demonstrate that the project has no bad effect on the bridge and that there is no reasonable alternative,” Postovit said. “Bridges wear out and this one has a limited load rating of 13 tons. We either beef it up or lose it.”
Beefing it up will probably not be the best option for the old bridge, but Ralph Swinehart, representing the Nez Perce Homeland Project in Wallowa, said he may have a home for it as a footbridge over the Wallowa River on the Tamkaliks Pow Wow grounds.
Postovit said putting it into another use, like a footbridge, is a good option.
Construction must meet the state parks’ scenic waterway regulations, Postovit said. Those specifications are being taken into consideration for the new bridge’s design.
Boyle said the new concrete bridge will be stained brown to make it blend in with its surroundings and it will have a powder coating texture to which stain will adhere well.