In making an abrupt about-face on their previous stance, Clarkton Bridge will stand pending the repairs that VDOT calls "critical safety issues," according to a Friday announcement.
VDOT Commissioner Philip Shucet said he received a proposal drafted by Halifax attorney W.W. "Ted" Bennett that detailed how bridge advocates would take care of the interim repairs necessary to address the safety factors associated with the bridge.
"It looks like they tried but weren't able to come up with the $1.5 million," Shucet said, referring to the mandated amount necessary to save the span put forth by VDOT on June 24.
"But they did come up with $200,000," he said. "That is enough to address the interim repairs that consist of under the pier, deck and railing."
During their June 21 meeting, supervisors voted unanimously to pass a resolution supporting the creation of the authority, allocating up to $20,000 to the effort.
But Bennett cautioned that the long-term preservation of the bridge would require concerted effort.
"There's going to have to be some significant private fund-raising and a long-term endowment for the bridge," he said.
In a telephone conversation Friday, Shucet echoed Bennett's comments. "The funding for the additional long-term repairs will remain with them," he said. "Those repairs will have to be made if this thing is to remain in service."
Bennett's seven-part proposal, accepted by Shucet, stipulates the following:
• Halifax and Charlotte counties will immediately form a recreational authority to take ownership of the bridge. The authority will bear the cost of annual inspections and repairs and liability insurance.
• The counties will, within the next two weeks, receive estimates on the critical interim repairs of the bridge.
• Pier repairs could be shared 50/50 with VDOT. If VDOT declines to participate, the counties will absorb the cost.
• The authority will raise funds necessary for all future repairs.
• Before pedestrians are allowed to use the bridge, it will be certified safe and inspected annually.
• Funding for the authority, estimated between $30 - $35,000, will come from the counties.
• The two Boards of Supervisors will hold immediate special sessions to vote on the proposal.
But during the special session in Halifax Friday afternoon called by Supervisors R.E. "Dickie" Abbott and James Edmunds, Board chairman William Fitzgerald said he was "offended" with the manner in which Bennett handled the bridge issue.
"I object to the manner in which this matter was handled," he said. "This issue is being pushed on this county and neighboring county. It is not for this Board to stand up financially to save this bridge."
"I recognize you feel I impinged on your turf and I apologize," Bennett replied. "I would not have done it had I been smarter."
While no vote was taken on the matter, bridge advocate and Southside Concerned Citizens Board Member Bob Cage applauded Bennett for his efforts.
"I would like to recognize Ted for what he's done of this," he said to the applause of those in attendance. "I don't know of anyone who has been more of a steward for the county."
Supervisor Doug Bowman said that Bennett had essentially "turned an aircraft carrier around on a dime".
"I do commend the advocates for getting the impossible done in about a week," he said of the brief reprieve to save the bridge offered by VDOT. "I think it's amazing what they've done."
"I have no problem working with the Board to create an authority for the preservation of the bridge," Fitzgerald said following the brief meeting. The funds for the interim repairs were raised through contributions from anonymous private donors.
Shucet said that implementation of the interim repairs was enough to address the safety concerns officials cited in their decision to demolish the span. "(The $200,000) is a substantial, honest effort on their part to invest their own capital to save the bridge," Shucet said.
VDOT will begin dialogue addressing the interim repairs this week, according to the Commissioner, "keeping our eye on the issue of permanent ownership in the future."
"As far as I'm concerned, this is a big step they took to come up with the funds for the interim repairs," he said.
The bottom line?
"The demolition of Clarkton Bridge as been put on hold pending repairs that VDOT deem critical," Shucet said. "I don't mind saying that my heart has always been with these folks, but I've had to pay careful attention to what is a very real public safety threat.
"I'm glad that we were able to sit across the table, look each other in the eye and come to some agreement in the form of private funds to take care of the immediate needs to put the bridge in an acceptable state of repair," he added.
Bennett said Friday that VDOT's decision marks the turning point of the future of the historic span.
"The way is now clear for the bridgework to be done and ultimately preserved and enjoyed by the general public," he said.
The Halifax attorney said he understood Shucet's position, and thanked him for changing his mind on the future of the Clarkton bridge.
"I'd like to thank Mr. Shucet for his public service diligence and willingness to take a hard look at the situation and agree with us that the bridge was worthy of being preserved," he said. "He has assured me that the Commonwealth will work with us as much as they can and I assured him that we'd work with them in any way we can in a mutually cooperative effort for the good of the community."
Bennett also thanked the anonymous donors for making the critical do nations necessary to save the bridge.
"If we can increase their contributions with contributions from private individuals to set up an endowment, the bridge will have a long and prosperous future," he said.