June 25, 2004

VDOT: Show Me The Money
Shucet Grants Counties One Week To Raise $1.5 Million In Repair Funds For Clarkton Bridge

ON GUARD Virginia State Police Sgt. D.O. Cooper was at Clarkton Bridge yesterday. Work began on the removal of the wooden deck Wednesday. (Staff photo by Keith Strange)
During a private meeting in Halifax yesterday, Virginia Department of Transportation Commissioner Philip Shucet granted a one-week reprieve on the demolition of embattled Clarkton Bridge.

But there is a catch.

Following the passage of resolutions of support by both Halifax and Clarkton counties' Boards of Supervisors, the commissioner granted the two counties until the close of business next Friday to raise $1.5 million for repairs they deem necessary to make the bridge safe for pedestrian/equestrian traffic, according to W.W. "Ted" Bennett.

"The most Shucet will do is give the localities until next Friday to raise $1.5 million, either by letter of credit or by other means, to make the repairs he deems necessary to make it safe," he said. "If the bridge is to be repaired, it needs to be done by the localities.

"VDOT has to be able to put their hands on that money by the close of business next Friday," the Halifax attorney added.

Bennett said that while the funds represent a tall order for the two localities, he said it's now in the hands of the two Industrial Development Authorities and Boards of Supervisors.

"We simply bought them that much time," he said, adding that the demolition crews have been pulled off the bridge for a week.

"This is problematic," Bennett said. "There's the question of whether it's possible in that time frame to raise that kind of money."

On the eve of the beginning of demolition of Clarkton Bridge, the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors unanimously endorsed a proposed regional authority to oversee ownership of the historic span.

The move appears to have had little effect on plans to tear down the structure, at least until yesterday's meeting in Halifax, as demolition of the bridge got underway Wednesday morning with construction crews removing the wooden decking from the structure.

The Charlotte County vote comes on the heels of Monday's unanimous vote by the Halifax County Board of Supervisors to allocate up to $20,000 in an effort to save the bridge.

As the Charlotte County board was voting to support saving the structure, a small group of protesters gathered at the bridge to protest the impending demolition.

Tuesday night, members of the Virginia State Police guarded both the Charlotte and Halifax county entrances to the bridge, allowing the protesters to assemble but not allowing them access to the bridge.

Several bridge advocates had earlier urged a sit-in to try to block access to the site to contractors.

Virginia State Police Public Information Officer D.O. Cooper said the group was well-behaved toward officers.

"We didn't have any problems at all," he said. "They had around 12-15 people at the bridge Tuesday night.

"I went down there (Wednesday) morning when the workers got there to work and there weren't any problems," Cooper added. "(Residents who support saving the bridge) are really nice people - one lady even brought coffee for the troopers standing guard. It's a shame something couldn't be worked out."

But supporters of preserving the bridge said yesterday that although demolition work had begun, the battle to save the span isn't over.

P.K. Pettus, a driving force behind preservation efforts, said prior to yesterday's meeting that bridge advocates were looking at all avenues to preserve the structural integrity of the bridge.

"We're exploring a whole range of options," she said. "The fight is far from over."

As reported earlier, the first step in the demolition is to remove the wooden deck of the bridge.

Pettus said the two to three week process buys advocates more time to fight the structural demolition planned for the bridge.

"One of the first steps in refurbishing the bridge was that the deck was going to be replaced and handrails installed," Pettus said. "That's not a threat to preserving the bridge structure itself."