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Bridge arrest

Published June 11. 2011 09:01AM

An Albrightsville man has been identified as the operator of the vehicle which damaged the historic covered bridge located in the Little Gap section of Lower Towamensing Township.

Lehighton State Police, which listed the incident as a hit-and-run, issued a statement saying that Joseph Chiariello, 42, has admitted to be the driver during the incident, which was reportedly damaged on June 3.

The police report stated that charges are pending.

At the Carbon County commisioners meeting on Thursday, Ron and Carol Gilbert, owners of the Covered Bridge Inn in Lower Towamensing Township, asked for permission to post reward signs at the bridge, which crosses the Buckwha Creek. The couple announced they were offering a reward of $500 for information contributing to an arrest.

Gilbert stated that the bridge, originally built in 1880, was damaged after the driver drove into it, struck the third beam of the covering, and then proceeded through it, tearing down additional beams and leaving the span extensively damaged.

County commissioners voiced concern at the meeting, since closing the bridge impacts travel routes in the area.

The bridge, on Township Route 376, is the only functioning covered bridge in Carbon County.

There is another covered bridge but is used for foot traffic only. It is the Harrity Bridge off Pohopoco Drive at Beltzville State Park. This bridge was salvaged during the construction of Beltzville Lake and Dam.

The Little Gap bridge is of Burr-arch design.

Ron Gilbert said he feels the bridge can be repaired. He said it appears that four cross beams and the end wall were damaged.

Three years ago, the covered bridge was temporarily closed after the Carbon County Commissioners learned the structure was in poor condition.

The commissioners took immediate action, hiring Stoney Ridge Fabricators, Inc., to weld steel plates over the holes and reweld the steel I-beams, as well as order two 16-foot by 10-foot bridge decking to replace the deteriorated sections. The cost of the project was initially expected to be $12,000.

But after further review, it was determined that the bridge was in dire need of repairs and is in an extremely deteriorated condition. Work on the repairs was canceled as a result.

The bridge was reopened because if it remained closed, residents and emergency personnel would be forced to take a 20-mile detour. This was due to a bridge on Lower Smith Gap road that was closed for repairs at that time.

To try and alleviate some stress on the bridge, the commissioners voted to lower the weight limit to five tons, or the size of a pickup truck or small van. The new limit became permanent on May 1, 2008 and is still in effect.

Gilbert said when the previous repairs were made, there was consideration given to opening it for foot-traffic only. He said he is pleased it was reopened, even though it had a weight limit.

"It's the only covered bridge in Carbon and it's a direct route to the ski area," said Gilbert.

A native of Upper Darby, Gilbert purchased the Covered Bridge Inn in 2003.

"It will be eight years on July 4," he said.

He said he has affection for the covered bridge because he enjoys history.

He feels the damage done on the June 3 hit-and-run incident isn't as severe as the age deterioration corrected three years ago.

Gilbert said he fought in 2008 to get the repairs made and the bridge reopened and he'll try to convinced officials to get the repairs made again.

"It's historical," he said of the bridge. "Our inn is historical."

Built in the early 1800's, Covered Bridge Inn was along the Stagecoach route serving meals to travelers.

Trooper Nicolas A. De LaIglesia of the Lehighton baracks of the state police is the investigating officer in the alleged hit-and-run incident.

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