Photos and article by Bev Mortimer, St Francis Chronicle:
The Sand River Bridge washed completely away soon after 2.30 am this morning, resulting ‘in the great divide’ between those living on the other side towards Humansdorp and those living in St Francis.
This huge chasm, or more accurately The Sand River Canyon, has effectively marooned St Francis residents and visitors here this weekend of 20 October 2012. In the background on the Humansdorp side of the bridge, a Sand Waterfall – a new development on the sand dunes – could be seen this morning.
This is the third time this bridge across the R330 road – the only access route to St Francis – has washed away and this is the third time St Francis residents have been marooned on ‘an island’.
According to emergency services, depending on weather conditions it was hoped a 3rd temporary foot bridge could be built across the bridge during the course of today so at least people could get to ‘the other side’ on foot. But a release from media liaison at Kouga Municpality a few minutes ago said this was not possible yet:
“News from our technical team on site is that it won’t be possible to construct a pedestrian crossing – too much of the bridge has washed away and the water is still flowing strongly.
“People are crossing the river ‘at own risk’ at a spot where the water is not flowing that strongly. Our fire brigade is busy putting up ropes to assist people across. We would, however, advise people to avoid crossing the river if at all possible.”
Once engineers, contractors and consultants have had a chance to survey the canyon tomorrow they will decide on how best to build another temporary bridge.
The Provincial Department of Roads, under whose jurisdiction the R330 road is (on which the Sand River bridge was), stated earlier this year that no permanent bridge will be built across the Sand River until 2014 because an EIA for a permanent bridge has to be done and this is expected to be a lengthy process. St Francis Chronicle broke this news in September this year.
Yesterday evening the Editor of this paper was at the bridge at 6.30 pm and noticed the water about a foot away from the top of the bridge. She called emergency services who came to inspect the bridge. Traffic officials remained at the scene most of the night to monitor the bridge until 2.30 am when a huge portion of the bridge was washed away.
Declaring the bridge too unsafe to cross at about 8.30 pm last night, the bridge was blocked off preventing late night revellers from either side from getting home last night. Today many visitors were either going to be returning home to St Francis from vacation or leaving here after spending the weekend.
Now that there is no way to cross many will have to make alternative plans until at least a foot path is constructed. In emergencies the fire brigade officers will help people across the bridge with ropes. Early this morning many people were spotted crossing the bridge higher up the river. It has been reported that among them were several dedicated Spar employees.
Emergency Services said that during working hours from tomorrow consultants and Engineers will decide on the best plan for the construction of a new temporary bridge that will start probably on Tuesday 23 October, hopefully.
In its September 2012 edition, St Francis Chronicle wrote the following: “The current precarious and shaky Sand River Bridge is likely to remain in force pending a new permanent bridge being built – unless further floods wash it away.
“This transpired recently in correspondence between the Provincial Roads Department that is responsible for the bridge and the local St Francis Bay Residents’ Association. The department has made it clear it is s not interested in quick-fix solutions or even more semi permanent bridges in the interim as they believe this is a waste of money. So no upgrades or temporary repairs unless the bridge washes away.
“In correspondence it also emerged that no action to permanently fix the Sand River Bridge has been undertaken in more than a year. No EIA has been started as until recently no EIA consultant was appointed.
“In addition there were delays while an investigation was undertaken to determine which entity or government department would fit the EIA bill . The Provincial roads Department has now been tasked with this expenditure.
“Spokesperson for the Roads Department, Craig S. McLachlan PrEng in revealing that there had been “ tremendous and very frustrating delays in getting the engineering and environmental consultants appointed,” said he expected the EIA could start in September 2012. “If all goes well this should be finished in approximately March (2013) and have a tender out immediately thereafter. We are budgeting to build the bridge in the 2013/14 Financial Year…
In a letter to the Provincial Roads’ department the St Francis Bay Residents’ Association (SFBRA) wrote: “It appears highly unlikely that we will have a permanent bridge in place before mid-2014 at the most optimistic, and that this community will remain dependent on the temporary causeway for at least the next two years..
“This is a matter of considerable concern. The entire economy of the community is dependent on road access via the Sand River causeway.
“Affected parties include not only residents and tourists, but municipal services, businesses, school children, police and ambulance services. The causeway has a theoretical weight limit of 10 tons, but vehicles of up to 50 tons are using it regularly, and there is no alternative route.
“The temporary causeway has already been washed away (twice) leading to complete isolation of the community for several days. The increased frequency of exceptionally heavy rainfall (1996, 2006, 2007 & 2011) indicates that there is the real possibility of the causeway being over-topped during the next two years, with its potential destruction. This has implications for the economy and job creation here.
“In the circumstances, we request your Department to undertake an inspection of the causeway, with a view to strengthening it before the next round of winter storms, so as to minimise the threat of further damage during the period leading up to construction of the permanent bridge.
“ We have consulted with a number of experienced civil engineers, who consider that some fairly simple and cost-effective measures could be taken quickly to ensure its safety over this period – including Chris Roberts, who is a Civil Engineer employed by Aurecon, and who is completely familiar with the problems in this area; and a costing of this undertaken by WBHO. “We trust that this could help in determining the parameters of any steps taken to protect the causeway.”
St Francis Chronicle will keep readers informed continually – as part of its free service to the community here and at large. Check back continually.
See Video taken this morning by Tony Butler: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151094061211366
See photos of the Sand River Bridge at 6.30 pm last night a few hours before it was completely blocked off by Kouga traffic officers and disaster management officials, plus emergency services:
ll articles edited or written, all photos taken plus all adverts designed by the Editor and printed in the St Francis Chronicle are protected by the law of Copyright ©. Reproduction or copying of any part of the contents of this newspaper and its concept and design can only be done with the Editor’s written permission.