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A massive operation is underway in Petawawa to save a key bridge. Rising flood waters are eroding an abutment on the Petawawa Boulevard Bridge, the main link between the town and the military base. Truckload after truckload of massive boulders is being dumped along an abutment in a frantic effort to save it from collapse. The swollen and now ferocious Petawawa River is chewing away at the concrete on the 45 year old structure

Lee Perkin is the Director of Public Works for the County of Renfrew, “Upstream, the river takes a sharp turn and with this much flow, it wants to go straight so it is undermining all the embankment behind us.”

Nearly 17 thousand cars cross the bridge every day between CFB Petawawa and the town but the bridge has been shut to all traffic for an undetermined amount of time. The 11 kilometre detour poses a risk for emergency personnel.

“This is critical infrastructure,” says Mike Nolan, the Director of Emergency Services for Renfrew County, “Not only does it link Petawawa with the garrison but it is also a significant emergency services route.”

While the bridge remains closed, emergency personnel have now been posted on the base in the event of an emergency.

There is also a concern that the gas, power and water lines that run beneath the bridge will be severed if it collapses. That would directly impact the garrison, says Lieutenant-Colonel Joe Hartson, the Acting Garrison Commander of CFB Petawawa, “We're putting contingency plans in place.  We do have backup generators on the garrison but it will interrupt things for several days.”

The water levels on the Petawawa River are nearly unprecedented and so is the closure of that particular bridge. What's ironic is that the bridge itself was built in 1972 after the original bridge collapsed into the river during a similar flood.

It's impossible to say how long the bridge will remain closed. Once river waters recede, Lee Perkins says engineers will check the viability of the bridge. The county of Renfrew has declared a state of emergency and says the bridge is one of hundreds of roads and structures in this area currently at risk.  Mike Nolan says they have asked the province, through the Emergency Operations Centre for more help. Currently there are 150 members of the military assisting along with several other organizations but Nolan says they have estimated they need another six hundred personnel on the ground.

“We were told flat out, “you have what you have and there's no more available,” he says, “We have significant concerns; we can use all help we can get. But knowing the spirit in this community we are once again asking the province for more help in Renfrew County.”

The county had just applied for funding through Infrastructure Canada to twin the Petawawa bridge for this very reason. They haven't yet heard back whether their bid is successful but they're hoping this will act as an impetus.