EMOTIONS continued to rage yesterday over Wagga's ailing Hampden Bridge even after the city council accepted a $1.8 million bid to demolish the 118-year-old timber structure.
Councillors on Monday night unanimously accepted the tender of Queensland company Southern Cross Demolition to pull down the bridge that was Wagga's only roadway over the Murrumbidgee River for most of its life.
The move confirms council's decision last year to pull down the bridge, which has fallen into disrepair to the point where part of its deck sunk 510 millimetres a few years ago and there are estimates that making the bridge safe could cost $6 million initially and hundreds of thousands of dollars a year after that.
There has been strong debate over the future of the Hampden Bridge ever since it was taken out of service in 1995 after the nearby Wiradjuri Bridge was opened.
That debate continued yesterday even though the bridge's fate is sealed.
Leigh Campbell, who submitted a comprehensive plan to preserve the bridge by covering it, said he was disgusted in council's decision.
"Wagga will be much poorer for the loss," Mr Campbell said.
"Future generations will wonder why we had so little regard for such an important part of our history."
Former Wagga mayor, Peter Dale, campaigned for the bridge's demolition while on council and yesterday welcomed the latest step towards that day.
"On August 28, 2006, I made a comment at a council meeting that demolition is the only option because keeping the Hampden Bridge would cost Wagga City Council hundreds of thousands of dollars," Mr Dale said.
"We are talking seven years ago ... it's a pity council has procrastinated so long and the question needs to be asked how much money has that procrastination cost the city of Wagga?"
Another former councillor, Ray Goodlass, said he was disheartened by council's decision.
"Accepting the tender has a terrible air of finality," he said.
Mr Goodlass said he was disappointed the tender included removing the pylons, which he had hoped could be used for a future walkway and cycleway.
"That would have been something that the community would get great benefit from," Mr Goodlass said.
But mayor Rod Kendall said council believed that leaving the pylons in the river would only lead to a future council having to spend money removing them, and that people could walk and ride across the Wiradjuri Bridge.
He said part of the bridge's heritage would remain in the form of the western abutment, which includes two concrete piers and the plaque containing the bridge's opening date.
And he said he expected there would be further documentation of the bridge before it was pulled down.
Councillor Kendall said Southern Cross Demolition would become the owner of the Hampden Bridge and people interested in retaining parts of it would have to approach the company.
He said it was uncertain when the bridge would be pulled down, but he expected it would be in the winter months when the river was not as deep.
North Wagga resident Heather Payne described the final blow as a kick in the guts.
"That bridge is a part of North Wagga," she said.
"I walk past that bridge every day and I love it.
"Demolishing it is like throwing away all your great-grandparents' jewellery and antiques."