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'Do you know your bridge is leaning?' Elizabethton considers engineers for askew Covered Bridge

John Thompson • Updated Feb 6, 2018 at 8:02 PM

ELIZABETHTON — The Covered Bridge in downtown Elizabethton has stood for 135 years, but late last year it was determined the bridge was leaning a bit toward the upstream.

City Manager Jerome Kitchens said the city was alerted to the problem by a citizen who lives close to the bridge. The neighbor said, “Do you know your bridge is leaning?” When city officials went to the bridge, they found the citizen was correct.

It is speculated that a strong wind that blew through Elizabethton on July 8, 2016, caused the lean. The storm blew down several trees in the area and two people were killed at Watauga Lake.

The city hired the Mattern and Craig engineering firm to confirm the bridge was safe and no emergency action was required.

After Mattern and Craig’s study was completed, it submitted a report that the city forwarded to its insurance carrier, the Tennessee Municipal League Pool. The claim was denied on Jan. 22, citing photographs taken before July 8, 2016, which TML said showed bridge leaning.

After the denial, the city still needed to know whether repairs to the bridge would be necessary and has hiredMattern and Craig to make the determination.

If repairs are needed, Mattern and Craig’s report will contain an action plan for short and long-term repair and maintenance tasks. The report will also provide a baseline for future repairs and maintenance. Mattern and Craig’s inspectors would be assisted by a historic timber structure contractor from Timber Works of Interest.

Once the inspection is completed, the engineers would make recommendations on short-term actions needed to stabilize the bridge and long-term items that could be delayed. The report will also evaluate the Tennessee Municipal League engineering report, which was the basis for the city’s insurance claim being denied.

The cost of the study would be $25,200. The city’s Engineering Department would fund $7,000 of the amount, with the rest coming from the General Fund balance.

Kitchens said the bridge had been through a major renovation in 2012. That was when Allegheny Construction Co. spent months making repairs to the bridge. Part of the Mattern and Craig study will be to interview Allegheny in order to assess any impressions the contractor had on the structural condition of the bridge at that time.

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