Lagoon Pond permanent drawbridge project moves forward

The temporary Lagoon Pond drawbridge, dubbed the "Crooked Bridge" by some, opened in 2010. This view is from Eastville Beach in Oak Bluffs, looking towards Vineyard Haven. — File photo by Tim Johnson

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MASSDOT) this week took the first permitting step to replace the temporary Lagoon Pond drawbridge, a bridge that many Islanders feared might become permanent.

MassDOT filed a permit application with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) on August 14, according to a press release issued August 15. The permit would allow MassDOT to discharge fill material into wetlands in the bridge-related area.

The drawbridge project involves the replacement of the current temporary steel bascule bridge with a new, seven-span bascule bridge, according to ACE. The work includes removal of the existing temporary bridge, installation of a multi-use walkway, installation of two navigation piles, approach work and associated fills, and dredge and fill associated with the installation of bridge piers, retaining walls, and a seawall.

In 2003, the state’s transportation agency, then known as MassHighway, announced plans to replace the failing Lagoon Pond drawbridge, starting with the temporary bridge that opened in January 2010 at a cost of $9.3 million.

Engineers revealed the original plans for the permanent drawbridge in a 2008 public hearing. MassDOT hoped to open the permanent bridge in 2013, at an estimated cost between $31 and $35 million, according to the Lagoon Pond Drawbridge Committee (LPDC).

A long process

The LDPC has been in a holding pattern since last fall, waiting for MassDOT to get through all of the permit review processes, bridge committee chairman Melinda Loberg told The Times in a phone conversation yesterday. Despite the wait, she said MassDOT’s application for the ACE permit is in keeping with the projected timetable for the project. Parsons Corporation is the design firm.

“The bridge design group has always told us that they intend to and must get an application to the Federal government by September 30 this year,” Ms. Loberg said. “That has always been their deadline for getting approval to go ahead with the bridge project and to obtain the money that comes with it. In order to meet that deadline, they must get the permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.”

Ms. Loberg said the ACE permit is one of four the bridge project requires. A water quality permit from the Department of Environmental Protection is expected to be issued in the next week or so. A permit from Coastal Zone Management (CZM) hinges on review of the ACE permit, once it is issued.

The permanent bridge also requires a permit from the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) after the CZM permit is obtained. The USCG has already issued a permit for the temporary bridge. However, it expires in 2013 and will require an extension to allow the temporary bridge to remain while the new bridge is constructed.

A new bridge when?

“What will be interesting to the public is that MassDOT will come to the Island sometime after Columbus Day with final bridge and landscaping plans to show everybody, as well as a specific timeline for the construction period,” Ms. Loberg said.

If all goes according to plan, the bridge project would be put out to bid in the fall, she added.

“And I will say that Steve McLaughlin of MassDOT, who is the head of this project, has said all along it’s very important to him that he be able to advertise this on time,” Ms. Loberg said. “And he really is determined to put himself in a position to be able to do it.”

Bids would be opened in January 2013 and the contract awarded in March. Actual construction would probably begin in June.

Ms. Loberg said the bridge project is expected to take at least two years and must be scheduled around limitations on when work may be done in the water.

“And then there will be a closure of the whole area for a period of time, too,” she said. “That we will definitely make happen out of season. That will be one of our concerns.”

The fill permit

The application for the federal permit was filed with the ACE in compliance with the Clean Water Act, which regulates the discharge or fill of material in U.S. waters, including wetlands, and with the Rivers and Harbors Act, which provides for federal regulation of any work in or affecting navigable waters of the U.S.

The ACE is the permitting authority for the placement of fill material in the waters and adjacent wetlands. The U.S. Coast Guard is the permitting authority for the bridge structures and work. As a result of the bridge replacement, the limits of the Lagoon Pond Federal Navigation Channel would change to match the new bascule pier location.

The drawbridge project will impact approximately 0.18 acre of Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) for various species and their life stages, according to the press release. Among the ones listed are winter and summer flounder, long-finned squid, cobia, black sea bass, and scup.

MassDOT proposes to install two navigation piles in Lagoon Pond to direct boaters toward the navigation channel and away from existing eelgrass beds, in coordination with the town of Tisbury.

Ms. Loberg said the fill project stemmed from a request from the Lagoon Pond Bridge Committee.

“What we asked for and is in the design is a pathway for people to go over and also under the bridge,” she explained. “In order to make the path complete under the Tisbury side of the bridge, they need to put in more rip-rap. It’s in their plan, it’s something we asked for, and hopefully the permit will reflect that.”

As part of the permit process the ACE is soliciting comments from the public, Federal, state, and local agencies and officials, and Indian tribes. Comments received will be considered in the ACE’s decision on whether to issue, modify, condition or deny a permit.

Public comments on the proposed work (file # NAE-2005-01385) should be sent no later than Sept. 13, 2012, to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District, Regulatory Division (Atten: Dan Vasconcelos), 696 Virginia Road, Concord, MA 01742-2751.