BREWSTER -- A section of a bridge on Nobles County 1 south of Brewster collapsed Tuesday afternoon as a contractor was working on the bridge deck.
"The contractor was milling the bituminous surface off the bridge deck, preparing it for an overlay that was to take place next week," explained Nobles County Public Works Director Steve Schnieder. "He had all of the bituminous surface removed except for one pass on the east side."
The milling machine -- which is estimated to weigh about 80,000 pounds -- was making that last pass when the outer edge of one of the bridge spans failed, sending the machine plummeting toward Elk Creek below.
"The operator was able to jump clear before it shifted and went down," reported Schnieder, adding that the man did seek medical care for a possible knee strain that resulted from the incident, but was otherwise unharmed. "The front of the machine is down in the channel; the majority is still sitting on the bridge deck at an angle, at a steep angle, nosing down toward the channel."
Nobles County 1 is a well-traveled road, according to Schnieder, serving as an artery between the communities of Brewster and Round Lake. The bridge is located about one mile south of Brewster.
"This is the connection between the Brewster and Round Lake Schools," he said. "It's the primary route between the schools for transferring children. It's also used obviously for grain movement, for the elevator and fertilizer plant in Brewster and the soybean plant. It carries its share of loads north and south between Brewster and Round Lake."
The bridge had recently been evaluated by a state bridge engineer as part of an assessment of area bridges prompted by the recent licensing of a new type of truck for the roadways.
"There were 10 that were questionable, and he was in the process of finalizing his report to the state," Schnieder noted. "So it was something that was being looked at this summer and being evaluated, not just by our inspectors, but by another set of eyes. I talked to him this afternoon, and he was fairly surprised at the type of failure, such a catastrophic failure."
It had been determined that there was some deterioration in an outer piling, Schnieder said, so that piling will be a prime suspect in determining a cause for the collapse. State bridge inspectors from Windom had already been on the scene taking pictures Tuesday afternoon. The contractor flew in by helicopter to take a look at the scene and was getting quotes for a crane to remove the milling machine.
Since the majority of the bridge is still standing, it will be evaluated to see if it can continue to support traffic.
"Maybe we can put a temporary railing up to channel people across if the rest is still structurally sound," Schnieder said. "Otherwise, it would probably remain closed throughout the winter and next spring until we can arrange for funding and design a new structure. It will probably be early next summer if we have to replace the whole structure."
In the meantime, Schnieder advises motorists to follow the marked detour.
"We encourage the public to find alternate routes in that area," he said. "The detour will be erected to Trunk Highway 60 and up to Brewster. We ask people to stay on the detour and stay off the local gravel roads, because the dust and additional traffic creates more problems for the townships."