Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dynamite blasts grand old bridge over Red River

'Very sad day' for St. Jean Baptiste residents

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IT withstood 1950, 1997 and 2011 floods and every other flood in between.

But it was last year's dry summer that finally did in the grand old bridge spanning the Red River at St. Jean Baptiste.

It took about two seconds to implode the bridge, built in 1947, into rubble Saturday.

"It's devastating. That bridge has been there 65 years," said Paul Sabourin, who farms and runs an aerial spraying business on the east side of the bridge.

"It's a very sad day, there's no doubt about it. No one was smiling here."

Dynamite was used to bring down the bridge. The blast "was quite a bang. She echoed quite a bit up and down the river," said Brent Manning, part of a six-person local committee lobbying to have the bridge replaced.

About 200 local people turned up for the event, parking their snowmobiles and 4x4s, and witnessing the implosion from viewing areas set up to the north and south of the bridge. The blasting and cleanup of the bridge, which began immediately, was handled by Rakowski Cartage and Wrecking.

The dry weather last summer caused the banks to contract, and then a rain storm in the fall caused the banks to slide. The riverbank soil slid into the piers and destabilized them, said Manning, who lives about 15 kilometres east of St. Jean Baptiste and used the bridge regularly. The bridge closed last October.

The town of St. Jean Baptiste is now cut off on the east side. People have received no word from the province on whether a new bridge will be built.

Sabourin said it will be an extraordinary disruption to life in the francophone community.

Everything from the school to the rink, the church, the grocery store and other merchants in St. Jean Baptiste will be hurt by the lack of a bridge, he said. An extra hour will be tacked on to the time kids spend on the school bus to get to school -- a half hour each way. Ditto for everyone else wanting to get to town.

"It's a social and cultural factor, as well as economic factor," said Manning. There are also safety issues. Emergency services will have to travel farther to go east of the bridge, from Morris or Dominion City instead of St. Jean Baptiste, he said.

Manning said the town is now the only community between Winnipeg and the Canada-U.S. border without a bridge spanning the Red.

The community has been told it will hear in April at the earliest if the province plans to replace the bridge. They are also hoping for some federal help from their MP, Vic Toews (Provencher).

The NDP government should have done more to maintain the bridge before it became unstable, said Conservative MLA Cliff Graydon (Emerson) in a press release.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 17, 2013 A3

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