- Associated Press - Sunday, December 20, 2015

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is asking for more time for people to comment on a proposal to take down a hiking bridge over the North Fork of the Pemigewasset River that was damaged during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

Since the 60-foot-long Thoreau Falls Bridge was damaged, the National Forest Service has posted signs warning hikers to go over it one at a time. The bridge, built in 1962, is part of the 5.1-mile Thoreau Falls Trail in the Pemigewasset Wilderness area in the White Mountain National Forest.

Shaheen, in a recent letter to District Ranger Jon Morrissey of the forest, says the calls and emails her office has received indicate overwhelmingly that public safety would be compromised if the bridge was to be removed and not replaced.

“Even in low water levels, crossing the river on slippery rocks with a heavy pack can be tricky, and with high water or with the uncertain stability of snow bridges in the winter, crossing accidents could easily cost lives,” she wrote.

Shaheen noted forest officials are considering an environmental assessment to include evidence and analysis to support their final decision.

“If the discussions include a range of bridge designs, I am sure the avid hikers I hear from would want to be involved,” she wrote.

Earlier this year, Dan Abbe of the Forest Service said engineers determined the log span can’t be repaired, leaving as the only options removal, replacement or leaving it there and hoping nobody gets hurt if it collapses. Federal rules make it hard to put man-made structures in wilderness areas so officials would have to justify building a new bridge, Abbe said.

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