June 11, 2004

Fight To Save Clarkton Bridge Underway

VDOT Demolition Is Slated To Begin June 21

With demolition set to begin in under two weeks, members of the Clarkton Bridge Alliance are contacting state officials and planning to appear before the Commonwealth Transportation Board to plead their case on saving Clarkton Bridge.

"This isn't over by a long shot," said P.K. Pettus, one of the driving forces behind efforts to save the historic span. "For six months, we've enjoyed a productive partnership between VDOT, the Clarkton Bridge Alliance, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the Virginia Historic Property Revolving Fund. We have this thing in motion and a plan being implemented."

"The battle is not over as far as determining why VDOT officials cut off communication with those groups who had been working interactively with them for the past six months," Halifax Town Manager Carl Espy said yesterday.

In a one-page press release dated June 2, a VDOT spokesman announced plans to tear down the structure, citing safety issues and the inability to find a permanent owner for the bridge.

"We're proceeding with the demolition as planned," Halifax County VDOT Resident Engineer Joe Barkley said yesterday.

VDOT advertised the contract for the bridge's demolition in May, 2003, with the awarding of the contract going to Burleigh Construction of Concord, Virginia, at a bid price of $197,826.

The planned demolition was put on hiatus as the Alliance sought a permanent owner for the bridge.

"Since then (May, 2003), we've been working to try to transfer the ownership to the Alliance and the, APVA (the Alliance for the Preservation of Virginia)," Barkley said. "All the particulars couldn't be worked out." In the notice last week, W.T. Ramey,VDOT's Lynchburg District administrator, said the decision was made based on safety issues.

"Reports indicate that there is major structural damage to the bridge which could result in collapse," he said. "After extensive efforts to work with citizens desirous of saving the bridge, VDOT must consider the safety of area citizens and visitors to the region and proceed."

But members of the Alliance say that a study conducted by VDOT six months ago indicated the bridge could be saved cost-effectively.

"What deterioration could have happened in just six months that resulted in the bridge needing to be torn down?" asked Espy.

"The bridge is still standing and is worth saving," Pettus said. "We have a plan and were well into implementation of the plan.

"We have the funds (through the APVA) that exist for the purpose of saving threatened historic structures " she added. "It's traumatic to think that VDOT doesn't need to tear down this bridge."

Espy said that efforts are underway to bring attention to the "unilateral action" made by VDOT to demolish the bridge.

"There's going to be a media buildup prior to Thursday's meeting (with the Commonwealth Transportation Board)," he said. "The idea is to maximize the media attention to seriously question and reverse this unilateral action which may have been executed on limited information. We'll be requesting that this gets another look."

Efforts to save the bridge include contacts at the "highest levels of state government," Espy said.

"There have been several members of the Board of Supervisors who have contacted members of the CTB about the demolition," Espy said. "And it's my understanding that the governor's chief of staff has been informed of this while he's in China."

Alliance and local officials have also contacted the state attorney general's office on the matter.

The CTB is an advisory committee who works with the Secretary of Transportation and VDOT Commissioner.

Pettus said that recent action by VDOT is inconsistent with the working relationship the two groups have had over the past few months.

"We've bent over backwards to work very graciously with VDOT," she said. "The press release (announcing the planned demolition) didn't acknowledge the six months of collaboration we've had on this project."

Proponents of saving the bridge say the structure, built in 1901, could be an economic engine by promoting tourism and could be a part of planned birding and heritage tourism efforts.

"(Last week's) action is an insult to citizens who worked in good faith with VDOT staff for six months and to the local governments who went to great lengths to support their efforts," Pettus said. "This makes a mockery of the Warner administration's statements about the importance of using historic and natural resources to promote tourism as an economic development strategy for rural communities."

The Clarkton Bridge spans the Staunton River between Halifax and Charlotte counties.