Watmaugh bridge solutions bring more outrage in Sonoma

County officials, stung by criticism over their plans to replace a historic steel truss bridge near Sonoma, are now proposing to keep the bridge and build a new one downstream.

But the revised plans for Watmaugh Road Bridge aren't receiving a better reception. The plans would require the county to acquire private property adjacent to Sonoma Creek in order to redirect the road leading to the new span.

"I'm stunned that this is the solution, and I would put the word solution in quotes," said Nancy Simpson, Sonoma Valley's designate to the county Landmarks Commission.

The Watmaugh bridge was constructed in 1929 to span the creek and connect what is today Arnold Drive and Highway 12 leading into Sonoma. The bridge is one of two steel truss bridges in Sonoma Valley and in 1981 was designated as a county historic landmark after preservationists saved it from being torn down.

County officials say the bridge is at risk of collapse during an earthquake or major flood because of erosion around the piers that support it. But preservationists contend that officials are inflating the risks and that the span can be brought to safety standards without having to replace it.

Passions already were inflamed over the bridge's fate prior to the county announcing the revised plans in an e-mail circulated this week to preservationists and Sonoma city councilmembers.

Sonoma Valley Supervisor Valerie Brown and Simpson, whom Brown appointed to the Landmarks Commission, are at odds over the issue, with Brown favoring the county's original plan that called for replacing the bridge while preserving the trusses.

Simpson advocates for the bridge to be retro-fitted.

"I recognize what Ms. Simpson wants and I can't seem to, with every fact, move her off of that. The reality is we cannot do what she wants us to do," Brown said.

<NO1><NO>But Brown shares Simpson's concerns about building an entirely new bridge, particularly the impact that would have on property owners whose land would have to be acquired in order to redirect Watmaugh Road.

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