LEE -- Bridge repairs crucial to keeping Lee's only remaining paper mill in business should get underway later this summer.

Town officials will soon bid the $441,000 project to refurbish the Willow Street span over the Housatonic River that links Onyx Specialty Papers and Route 102 in South Lee. Lee Public Works Superintendent Christopher Pompi says the bids are due in mid-June, with the winning contractor expected to complete the work in the current construction season.

"We need to do structural repairs as there's deterioration of the trusses," he said. "We need to get the bridge back up to current standards."

Pompi told the Lee Board of Selectmen on Tuesday night, Chapter 90 state highway funds will pay for refurbishing the bridge, which will remain open during construction.

He said additional work includes deck repairs, drainage improvements and the removal of the sidewalk, which has been closed to pedestrian traffic since late 2012. Town officials noted the estimated $350,000 needed to replace the sidewalk was cost prohibitive and dropped from the overall scope of work.

In November 2012, the Mass-
achusetts Department of Transpor-
tation gave Lee the green light for the bridge rehabilitation due, in part, to the economic importance of the span.

MassDOT ordered the bridge sidewalk closed over structural deficiencies, but allowed it to remain open to all vehicular traffic, especially to the mill.

Town and Onyx officials have said the bridge provides the only safe passage for truck traffic to the plant that employs 160 people and operates on a six-day work week.

Meanwhile, town officials expect it will be another year before work begins to replace another troubled crossing in South Lee. Pompi says the town needs to get a waiver from the state's bridge replacement guidelines in order to build a new span on Meadow Street over Powder Mill Brook.

The state requires a 37-foot wide bridge with a bike path, but the town wants to retain the 21-foot wide dimension of the original structure they say is in keeping with the rural character of the area. Meadow Street is a key alternate route between Tyringham Road and Route 102.

The existing bridge was closed in March 2012 due to structural damage that included a two-foot hole in its decking.

Later that December, a temporary bridge was ins-
talled over the existing one, until a new permanent span is constructed.