LEE -- A local contractor is poised to start bridge repairs crucial to keeping the town's only remaining paper mill in business.
Pending state approval, L B Corp. of Lee will furbish 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 expects the $460,500 project to be completed in the current construction season. Pompi has said Chapter 90 state highway funds will pay for refurbishing the bridge, which will remain open during construction.
The Board of Selectmen recently awarded L B Corp. the contract provided state transportation officials are satisfied with the company's ability to remove lead paint from the bridge according to state environmental regulations.
Northern Construction Service of Weymouth was the only other bidder at $515,000.
While L B Corp.'s bid was nearly $20,000 above the cost estimate, town officials felt the project should go forward given few firms in the region have bridge repair experience.
"I think it's important we fix the Willow Street bridge," said Selectman Thomas Wickham. "I think it's a reasonable bid and the workers [at Onyx] will appreciate it.
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.
Refurbishment of the span includes structural repairs to the deteriorating trusses, 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 Massachusetts Department of Transportation 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.
To reach Dick Lindsay:
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