Otter Tail County, MN– The County Highway 41 Bridge at Star Lake near Dent was set on fire September 6, 2020. The Sheriff’s Office reports Ryan Curtis Johnson, of Mapleton, North Dakota was arrested for arson after apparently trying to burn down the bridge. The bridge is closed, and a detour has been set up along County Highway 35 and State Highway 108. Safety measures and structural enhancements are being put in place. County Engineer Charles Grotte plans for the bridge to reopen in a few weeks.

Immediately following the crime, Otter Tail County law enforcement and highway department personnel worked to establish a detour and notify emergency responders of the incident and the detour. Information gathered at the scene was used to apprehend and arrest the suspect. Johnson is currently booked in the Otter Tail County Detention Center. “We have zero tolerance for damaging public property,” noted County Commissioner Doug Huebsch.

Upon survey of the bridge by engineers, it appears that the entire bridge was on fire and has been charred throughout.  The charring appears to be about ½ to 1 inch deep in the beams and underside of the bridge decking.  The bridge railings and walkways on either side of the bridge were destroyed so concrete barriers (Jersey Barriers) will be placed on the sides of the bridge including reflectors and sand barrels. When reopened the weight restrictions are 14 tons for conventional vehicles and 22 tons for semi-trailers. Bridge load posting signs will be installed at the bridge and at all major intersections, along with advisory 40 mph signs and the truck detour.

Emergency vehicles are exempt from bridge load posting per Minnesota Statute. However, because emergency vehicles are heavy single unit trucks, Grotte has reached out to emergency responders in the area so they understand the vulnerable nature of this bridge and can better plan for any unforeseen emergency response needs.  

The goal is to replace the bridge during the summer of 2021. The initial estimated cost is $980,000 with an anticipated state contribution of $300,000. Otter Tail County is responsible for the balance and all associated cost due to the bridge closure. “The County should not have to pay for criminal acts,” said County Commissioner John Lindquist at the recent Board meeting.

Grotte shared the new bridge will be built to current standards which means the bridge will be wider (about 49 feet) and will include a walkway on each side of the bridge. New bridges are built so no weight restrictions are necessary for the bridge. 

The bridge will open in a few weeks, the advised speed limit will be 40 miles per hour and a weight limit will be in place. A detour will be marked for overweight vehicles. “We thank the public for their patience as we work to safely reopen the bridge,” said Grotte.