Demolition on the bridge over Paint Creek in Lafayette began Wednesday, as crews from Larson Construction Co. started the process of tearing down a bridge that was forced into retirement by a heavy load less than one month ago. Costs to remove the bridge are estimated at $65,000, pending all goes well and its skeleton does not fall into the creek, Town Chairman David Staber said. Estimates for demolition should the bridge fall into the creek bed are unavailable, Staber added. The county is paying to remove the bridge, said Chippewa County Highway Committee vice chair Tom Thornton. The state has awarded the town $960,000 for an estimated new $1.3 million bridge, Staber said, and the county and township will split the remaining $170,000 to replace the structure. The bridge should be demolished within two weeks, with a goal of July 4. Barriers blocking boaters from passing under the bridge in the creek will be removed when the structure is gone, Staber said, though the public is not welcome near the site at this time. “Stay out of the area. Spectators aren’t really welcome,” Staber said. “They’re working as quickly as they can.”

On June 4, the town of Lafayette approved borrowing $250,000 from Citizens State Bank for the construction of the new bridge. Design is nearly finished, Staber said, and construction should start by spring 2019. The loan will also serve as funding the township can pull from should emergencies or unforeseen issues come up. Getting the state funding was an expedited process, Thornton said, with help from local legislators and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. With the Cobban Bridge between Cornell and Jim Falls receiving 11 percent less of its funding than the county previously thought, having the state work diligently to speed the funding process of this emergency need is one less issue the county has to worry about, Thornton said. “Sounds like everything is moving very smoothly,” Thornton said. “The county was able to get our Legislature involved to help out a little bit, and the state bridge people and the DOT, and it sounds like we’re going to move on as quickly as we can.” Local legislators Rep. Kathy Bernier (R-Lake Hallie), Sen. Terry Moulton (R-Chippewa Falls) and Rep. Rob Summerfield (R-Bloomer) worked with the DOT in an effort to secure the funding for the state bridge, signalling to the state that the bridge’s funding was a high priority, Moulton said. The Wisconsin DNR, the DOT, Lafayette, Chippewa County and other local agencies all worked together, Bernier said, to get the funding for the bridge. “(I’m) just happy that the DOT has the ability to come forward with additional dollars and get that project on the front burner rather than the back burner so it’s wonderful,” Bernier said. “This is how government is supposed to work.” The town will begin accepting bids for construction in January 2019, Staber said, adding that it will be impossible for the township to move forward with building a replacement in 2018. Before the closure, Paint Creek’s bridge was downgraded to an 18-ton bridge, and plans for a new $1.4 million bridge were scheduled for 2021.