Backers Rally For Bridge
Concerned citizens will stage a last ditch effort this Sunday afternoon
to save the endangered Clarkton Bridge between Halifax and Charlotte
Jack Dunavant, head of Southside Concerned Citizens, is asking supporters
of the campaign to save the historic 102-year-old structure to gather
at the bridge on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., one day before the
demolition process is scheduled to get underway on Monday, June
Also, local preservationists and officials will travel to Richmond
this morning for a meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board,
where they will make their plea to save the span.
Douglas Powell of Halifax, a founding member of the Clarkton Bridge
Alliance, said the group hopes to convince the CTB that VDOT abruptly
— and unjustifiably — switched gears in the ongoing
negotiations to save Clarkton Bridge.
“We were blindsided thinking what was going on for six months
was adequate to meet the requirements of VDOT and out of the clear
blue someone comes forth and says we haven’t (done so),”
Powell faulted VDOT for changing course on the bridge’s future
in the midst of talks with local governments and said that if efforts
to save the bridge weren’t deemed adequate by VDOT, someone
should have said so.
“VDOT was telling the Board (of Supervisors) that things were
progressing,” said Powell. The sudden decision to demolish
the bridge “tells me that someone wasn’t in the loop,
someone didn’t blow the whistle to say that what you’re
(local governments) doing isn’t enough.”
While advocates are attempting to whip up public support for saving
the bridge, they face a difficult task. According to Powell and
others, the Warner Administration has not backed off its plans for
demolition even in the face of a groundswell of public opposition.
“Maybe it’s too late, maybe it’s not,” said
Responding to letters, phone calls and e-mails, the Warner Administration,
including Secretary of Transportation Whitt Clement, has signaled
that the decision on Clarkton Bridge will stand.
“Governor Warner has said Secretary Clement would be speaking
for him,” said Powell. “Clement has come back and said
there are concerns (of VDOT) that have not been met … Basically
he’s telling people it was his decision and he stands behind
it and behind the VDOT staff and that’s the bottom line.
“He’s saying it’s irrevocable.”
The bridge’s fate appeared to be sealed Wednesday, June 2
when VDOT Commissioner Philip A. Shucet announced that the department
would move forward to demolish the structure. Shucet cited major
structural damage to the bridge which he said could lead to its
Shucet’s announcement shocked members of the Clarkton Bridge
Alliance who negotiated with VDOT for six months to have the bridge
taken over for interim ownership by APVA Preservation Virginia.
Alliance members said they worked with VDOT to satisfy its concerns
over safety and liability issues and to resolve the broader question
of permanent ownership of the bridge once VDOT relinquished control.
The Alliance presented a blueprint to use the structure for a biking,
hiking and recreational trail between Charlotte and Halifax Counties.
Alliance members said local VDOT officials had been very helpful
in their efforts.
Governing bodies of both Halifax and Charlotte have lent their support
to the Alliance’s efforts, although Powell pointed out that
neither board has offered a solid financial commitment to pay for
future maintenance of the bridge.
“If the two boards would commit to a reasonable amount of
funding to ensure it will be maintained, we’d have a good
shot (at saving) it,” said Powell, who added that an annual
pledge of $15,000 from both counties “is a number floating
around.” “There are people trying to put that together
at the 11th hour,” he added.
In the meantime, the SCC, the Clarkton Bridge Alliance and local
officials are hoping to stem the demolish process by creating a
show of public support for Clarkton Bridge’s preservation.
Some advocates are also exploring the possibility of legal action
to halt the demolition.
“More than one group has explored it. There have been discussions
with a group of attorneys, I do know that,” said Powell.
Halifax Town Manager Carl Espy, another member of the alliance,
suggested that Dunavant’s group may play a role in any legal
effort. “If SCC is stepping up to look at what legal action
can be taken for injunctive relief, the Clarkton Bridge Alliance
is delighted to have their support.”
The first step, however, is applying public pressure on state officials
in whose hands the fate of Clarkton Bridge lies.
“We hope to generate a large crowd on Sunday afternoon to
show Richmond VDOT officials that demolishing this bridge is not
the way to go,” said Dunavant yesterday. “We have other
options that will relieve them of liability while leaving this piece
of history for generations to come to enjoy.”