June 21, 2004

Supporters Protest Clarkton Demolition
Hundreds Turn Out To Support The Preservation Of Clarkton Bridge

Deck boards that once supported horse-drawn carriages were once again supporting the people of Halifax and Charlotte counties yesterday as several hundred citizens gathered at Clarkton Bridge to protest the impending demolition of the historic structure.

Approximately 300 people turned out under cloudless skies to show their support for efforts to save the span.

"There have been comments that say people aren't interested in saving this bridge," advocate Doug Powell said as he stood on the bridge and looked out over the Staunton River. "I guess this shows different. Our communities (Halifax and Charlotte counties) assumed people were in places of responsibility that followed the correct procedures to save historic property.

"It's a shame to have one person with the authority to undermine all that work," he added.

After months of working with the Clarkton Bridge Alliance, a VDOT spokesman announced plans to tear down the structure on June 2 in a press release, citing safety issues and the inability to find a permanent owner for the bridge.

In the notice, W.T. Ramey, VDOT's Lynchburg District administrator, said the decision to demolish the bridge 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 advocates of saving the bridge cite a study conducted by VDOT six months ago that indicates the bridge can be saved cost-effectively.

In a letter to members of the Alliance earlier this month, Transportation Secretary Whit Clement said the department had tried to cooperate with the Alliance, but time had run out.

Last week members of the Alliance appeared before the Commonwealth Transportation Board to ask for more time to find a permanent owner, to no avail.

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

The Halifax County Industrial Development Authority passed a resolution Thursday requesting a 45-day extension on plans to tear down the bridge. The IDA is proposing that Halifax and Charlotte counties form a joint authority to oversee the ownership of the property.

Supporters of the bridge said yesterday that they had not given up on saving the structure.

"We're going to do whatever it takes to keep this bridge and organize a group to oversee and take ownership of this historic structure," said supporter and IDA member Jack Dunavant.

Many of the advocates blame what they call "unilateral" actions by VDOT for the impending demolition.

"There's been more undermining in the fate of this bridge in the past two months from Richmond than in the past 100 years from the Staunton River," Alliance member Carl Espy said as he walked across the span.

Built in 1901, Clarkton Bridge spans the Staunton River between Charlotte and Halifax counties.

It was closed in 1998 due to safety issues.

In 2003, the Clarkton Bridge Alliance was given the opportunity to find a suitable owner, delaying the awarding of a demolition contract for the bridge.

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

It has been designated a stop on Virginia's Birding and Wildlife Trail and is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

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.

Following the June release, demolition of the Clarkton Bridge could begin at any time.