City crew washes mold and mildew off north face of Covered Bridge

Published 3:41 pm Saturday, May 9, 2015

NW0510 Cleaning the Bridge B

City work crews brought out the heavy machinery Friday to help give the historic Covered Bridge in downtown Elizabethton a thorough spring cleaning.

It’s not that the bridge was that dirty. A large crane was necessary to get the workers safely in place to remove the mold and mildew that accumulated on the north side of the bridge over the winter. This is the first time the city has had to deal with this kind of mildew buildup on the side of the Covered Bridge, Elizabethton Street and Sanitation Department Director Danny Hilbert said.

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“We theorize it is because it is on the north side of the bridge, and it is a shady side,” he said. “There is not really a lot of sun that is getting to that side of the bridge, and it could be why.”

The city had tried different methods of getting workers out to the exterior of the bridge before finding that a crane was the answer, Hilbert said. The city contacted Barnhart Crane in Kingsport, which brought over the machinery to help get the cleaning done.

“This was really the only safe way to clean the exterior of the bridge,” Hilbert said.

The first option considered was to place ladders in the Doe River bed and have staff climb up to the side of the bridge to clean it.

That was quickly ruled to be too dangerous, Hilbert said. The next possibility was to use a man lift, a hydraulic lift with a bucket for one or two people, but it did not extend out far enough over the river.

“We have been working on this since February,” Hilbert said. “We would have loved to have done this sooner. I hope people don’t think we were ignoring the problem. We couldn’t get the right combination of equipment and weather together until now.”

To clean the bridge, a two-man crew was lowered in a basket down beside the exterior. The men used a large scrub brush and a water hose to wipe away the mildew build up. The crews cannot use any soap or cleaner on the bridge to clean because of environmental regulations.

“We cannot use any cleaners because of the river,” Hilbert said. “TDEC (Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation) doesn’t allow the use of chemicals when it can run off into the water. All they can use is a brush, water and elbow grease.”

If the issue continues to be a problem, the city will need to look for another solution like mildew resistant paint for the bridge, Hilbert said.

The goal was to have the bridge completely cleaned by the end of the day Friday.