Efforts continue to save bridge as deadline looms

Paula I. Bryant/The Union Star, June 18, 2004

Unless the Secretary of Transportation or Governor Mark Warner intervenes, demolition of Clarkton Bridge is scheduled to start Monday, June 21.

And P. K. Pettus of the Clarkton Bridge Alliance is urging area residents to make a last ditch effort to save the historic structure.

"As a key link in a regional network of trails for walking, bicycling, horseback riding and enjoying nature, Clarkton Bridge is a tourism and recreation asset for Southside Virginia. We need your help to save it," Pettus said.

"After months of partnership with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and local governments and agreeing upon a plan, we were almost there. We were stunned by VDOT's sudden about face," she said referring to VDOT's decision announced earlier this month to take the bridge down.

Pettus urges those interested in helping to save the bridge to contact the Governor and Secretary of Transportation Whitt Clement as soon as possible.

"Call our Commonwealth Transportation Board members Hunter Watson in Farmville at 434-392-9813 and Ken White in Lynchburg at 434-846-9000. The Board meets in Richmond this Thursday, and we are trying to get on the agenda," she said.

"Remember what is at stake," she continued.

In addition to making calls, persons also can e-mail the governor and Secretary Clement.

Governor Mark Warner's e-mail: mark.warner@governor.virginia.org

Secretary Clement's e-mail. whitt.clement.governor.virginia.org

Hunter Watson's e-mail: hwatson@davenportllc.com, phone 434-392-9813

Ken White's e-mail: kwhite@ewlaw.com, phone 434-846-9000.

In addition, to e-mailing the Governor and the Secretary, Pettus wants local residents to contact the governor's chief of staff, bill.leighty@governor.virginia.gov, and his press secretary ellen.qualls@governor.virginia.gov.

"Ask the Govenor and Secretary Clement, what on earth happened and why? Ask the Governor, how is the demolition of this historic bridge that has been designated as a stop on the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail consistent with his policy of encouraging heritage tourism and nature tourism as strategies for economic development in rural Virginia?

"Meeting together on a regular basis for six months, VDOT, the Clarkton Bridge Alliance, the local governments of Halifax and Charlotte Counties, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and APVA Preservation Virginia had agreed upon a plan for preserving Clarkton Bridge. The implementation of that plan is well underway," Pettus added.

"Why did Mr. Shucet set aside six months of a productive partnership and make a unilateral decision to demolish the bridge without bringing all parties back to the table? Why did he take this action without first contacting the local governments who had retained counsel to represent them in this matter and sent elected supervisors, county administrators, and deputy county administrators to meetings during the past 10 months in which the bridge preservation plan was worked out?" she questioned further.

"We are about to cross the finish line in transferring ownership of the bridge to the Virginia Historic Properties Revolving Fund. They will take title. They have confirmed they can obtain liability insurance," Pettus said this week adding, "For goodness sakes, since VDOT doesn't want the bridge, give it away, don' t tear it down."

"During a conversation with VDOT Commissioner Shucet this past Friday, Pettus said he seemed unaware of the extent of the partnership between VDOT's own staff, Clarkton Bridge Alliance, local governments and others of the past six months. There is a possibility that we may lose this magnificent bridge as the result of a colossal communication lapse within VDOT," she said.

"Mr. Shucet noted that 'we don't build bridges like this anymore.' It doesn't meet 21st century standards for bridge design.'"

"No, we don't, and it doesn't. It was built more than 100 years ago for travelers by foot, horses, mules and wagons. It has survived years of overweight trucks. We want to return it to trucks. We want to return it to its original purpose.

"Travelers by foot and horse. Plus bicyclists, birdwatchers, individuals who for reasons of limited mobility could not otherwise gain access to the middle of a State Scenic River. VDOT's own January 2004 report has shown how bridge rehabilitation can be accomplished," she concluded.