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Bridging the Divide 

Bayside residents are concerned the county will replace a quaint Jacoby Creek bridge

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Photo by Grant Scott-Goforth

Just off Jacoby Creek Road in Bayside is a one-lane, rust-red, wooden covered bridge that stretches 60 feet across narrow Jacoby Creek — the only entrance and exit to a small neighborhood.

The bridge, built of fir and redwood in 1967, evokes an earlier time, but its future is up in the air. Humboldt County says the bridge needs costly repairs — $500,000 worth over 20 years, by a Caltrans assessment — or replacement. But neighbors are attached to the bridge, which they say gives the neighborhood, and the county, value beyond its price tag.

This time of year, Jacoby Creek gently burbles underneath the bridge in the shade of big leaf maples and alders.

Across the wooden span, with its criss-crossing timbers overhead and its planked floor that drums under foot and wheel, Brookwood Drive opens up into a neighborhood of 22 homes.

Jamie Roscoe owns a house beyond the bridge, and a heart that's close to it. His dad, Charles Roscoe, designed and built the bridge along with Earl Biehn in 1967. Charles had worked on bridges around California and envisioned something noteworthy for Brookwood.

"He just wanted something beautiful," Jamie Roscoe said. "Not just some standard functional thing."

So the younger Roscoe was taken aback when he got a call in late April from Public Works Deputy Director Chris Whitworth saying the county was considering replacing the bridge.

"It's not just the 20 parcels across the bridge," Roscoe said. "It's a fairly well-known bridge, even though it's only been around for 50 years. It's part of the cultural landscape now."

It took him a week how to figure out how to tell his dad about the county's concerns.

Charles Roscoe, now 90 and living in Eureka, was the first head of the engineering department at Humboldt State University. In a phone conversation last week, he fondly recalled the labor that went into the bridge, including fashioning the main horizontal support, which is called a chord.

"The bottom chord of that bridge is a single timber 60 feet long. You can't find one on the market, so we had to cut it," he said. It took two days with a large chainsaw to cut the beam. "We have quite a bit invested in that. So I hate to see it go."

Brookwood Drive resident Charlotte Dixon calls the bridge a "little piece of heritage." While it's too new to qualify for historic preservation, the bridge adds character to the neighborhood (it's helped sell more than one property by some accounts) and it's a destination for sightseers, she said.

The bridge is featured on the Humboldt County Film Commission website and has been the backdrop in a few commercials. Brides-to-be, wedding parties and graduating seniors drive to the bridge to pose for photos.

"Sweethearts are on the bridge — and you can tell that by lots of carvings," Dixon said. She recalled German tourists who visited and told her the bridge had been used in the online treasure hunt known as geocaching.

Charming as the bridge may be, the county has concerns about paying for a deteriorating wooden structure. Whitworth was reluctant to talk at first — he said public backlash quashed a county project in McKinleyville without enough discussion — but he said the county is far from firing up the wrecking ball in Brookwood.

Whitworth and 3rd District Supervisor Mark Lovelace planned to meet with Brookwood residents this week to explain the county's position and options. Foremost, Whitworth said, there is an opportunity for the county save quite a few tax dollars.

Wood doesn't last as long as steel and concrete, and there's more than just the main supports: The county is responsible for reroofing, painting and sheathing — "because it's essentially a house," Whitworth said. "The siding right now is riddled with powder beetles. There's more than just the structural member of the bridge."

Lovelace said it's not a case of the county picking on this particular bridge.

"Every bit of infrastructure requires maintenance, upkeep and eventually replacement," Lovelace said. "Public works tracks all of those things constantly, and they also track funding sources for opportunities to do those kinds of things."

Public Works Director Tom Mattson said a concrete bridge is the county standard because it's the cheapest to build and maintain. In Brookwood's case, the county secured $170,000 in federal funds, which could cover the costs of designing a new bridge and putting it through environmental and public review processes but not actually building whatever comes next.

"The bottom line is this bridge is a very expensive bridge," Whitworth said. "We have an opportunity to have it replaced."

Now the county is figuring out what can be done while balancing the stipulations of the grant money, the needs of the county and the desires of the bridge fanciers.

"We are just at the very, very preliminary stages," Whitworth said.

One possible option: Rebuild it with a replacement cover to mimic the charm of the existing bridge.

Jamie Roscoe is pushing for a similar idea. "I'm leaning toward looking into using the federal grant to reconstruct the bridge's main members. Then set the covered part of that back on."

If the grant stipulations prevent this and community pressure puts the kibosh on a replacement, the only other choice is outside funds.

"It'd be neat to see a way to keep the bridge," Lovelace said. "Ultimately we may have to look at non-governmental sources to try and fund it."

Whitworth suggested an assessment fee, though he was skeptical the neighborhood would agree to it.

"I'm not sure they're willing to take on the burden of maintenance of the structure," he said.

Jamie Roscoe agreed. "Most people think they're taxed enough," he said though he suggested a tax on a wider population.

Brookwood resident Dixon was also dubious of an assessment fee.

"We didn't buy these houses for an ongoing additional cost," she said. "We didn't buy into a homeowners association — an assessment, as it were."

Plus, she said, she's seen neighborhoods that pay for roads and infrastructure become overly protective — gating communities, for example, to prevent wear and tear caused by non-residents.

"I just think it would engender some real bitterness," she said.

Both neighbors and the county say it's too soon to know what will happen with the bridge, though a "Save the Brookwood Bridge" Facebook page already has more than 100 followers and the group is poised for political action if necessary.

The county hopes this week's meeting will pave the way for a crowd-pleasing and cost-effective solution. Residents hope a walk across the bridge will convince county officials that an uncovered replacement just won't do.

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