Deal reached on Clarkton Bridge
July, 5, 2004

Deal reached on Clarkton Bridge The historic old Clarkton Bridge has survived… “We have a deal,” said Ted Bennett on Friday as he updated County Supervisors on communication with Transportation Commissioner Philip A. Shucet, who accepted the proposal put forth by Bennett and supporters of the bridge.

In correspondence to Shucet on Thursday, July 1, Bennett proposed that the counties of Halifax and Charlotte begin immediately to form a Recreational Authority to take over ownership of the bridge and agree to bear the cost of annual bridge inspections and repairs with full and adequate insurance carried on the structure.

The counties will work with English Construction Company of Lynchburg and Schwartz and Associates, also of Lynchburg, to come up with estimates for repairs to the defective pier within one to two weeks and commence forthwith the necessary corrective work to rebuild the pier through the Authority, the proposal says.

The counties will share the costs of the pier repair 50/50 with VDOT (Virginia Department of Transportation) through their Authority, and if VDOT will not participate, the counties will pay the costs.

Furthermore Bennett proposed that the Authority be responsible for raising funds and bearing all the costs for all future repairs, unless of course, VDOT is willing to participate with the counties and authority in a public/private partnership.

Finally Schwartz and Associates would have to certify the structure before pedestrians or others are allowed to use the bridge and to do so on an annual basis with the Authority paying for the same.

In the same correspondence Bennett had suggested that the two counties might be responsible for $30,000 to $35,000 annually to fund the insurance and annual inspection costs and repairs. But on Friday Bennett said that $200,000 in private donations to support the bridge’s preservation have been secured.

“We have the money to do the (repairs to) pier,” Bennett told Supervisors, noting that the proposed Authority will be responsible for payment of liability insurance and annual costs of operating the Authority. He also noted that over the years it will be necessary to paint the old structure. A major capital campaign will be started for endowment of the structure, Bennett explained, thereby relieving taxpayers of the financial burden.

“We have dodged the bullet of demolition that Commissioner Shucet had ordered,” Bennett said, as he thanked numerous supporters who have worked diligently over the past week to save the bridge. “All we need now is an agreement from the county governments to create the Authority. Ownership of the bridge will remain with VDOT until the pier is repaired.”

Bennett later said he expects work on the pier to start in the next several weeks. “It is our hope that our efforts, combined with the entrepreneurial spirit which 102 years ago built the bridge, have done a sure thing in forging a public-private partnership.”

Board chairman William Fitzgerald questioned whether or not Bennett may have overstepped his authority in offering the proposal prior to the Board’s Friday meeting, and ED#8 Supervisor Bryant Claiborne stressed that the law must be complied with in giving public notice of the formation of the Recreational Authority. “We need time to do that carefully and intellectually,” Claiborne said.

Bennett responded “that is correct.” But he noted with a Friday, July 2 deadline looming at 5 p.m. that he had to move forward to buy time for the creation of the authority and to ensure that the proper procedure be carried out.

Bob Cage, a member of the 30 some audience that turned out to support Bennett’s efforts, called for recognition of Bennett’s work. “I would like to recognize Ted for what he’s done. He hasn’t been well and he’s showed stewardship and knowledge in this matter.” Cage’s remarks brought forth a round of applause from the audience, all of whom were standing in the crowded conference room of the County Administration office where Supervisors met on Friday at 1 p.m.

Friday’s announcement that the bridge would be spared came exactly one month after Shucet on June 2, 2004 announced that the multi-span old camelback truss bridge would be demolished.

Members of the Clarkton Bridge Alliance who had spent months of work to preserve the bridge and to find an interim owner, as well as a permanent one, were shocked at Shucet’s announcement of plans to demolish the bridge. And on Friday, David J. Brown, Executive Vice President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation wrote Shucet that he was requesting the Army Corps of Engineers to suspend VDOT’s permit to demolish the structure pending further consultation to ensure that the “reasonable and good faith effort to identify feasible and prudent alternatives to demolition is thoroughly conducted.”

Brown wrote Shucet “The National Trust for Historic Preservation is deeply troubled to learn that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) may be poised to demolish the historic Clarkton Bridge in Halifax and Charlotte Counties, setting aside many months of good-faith, public-private collaboration, which was well on the way to launching the rehabilitation. This historic bridge would serve as a linchpin in a network of scenic trails to advance the development of tourism and recreation opportunities under local government stewardship in Southside Virginia.”

Plans for the bridge call for it to be for pedestrian use only — hiking, biking trails, as well as being a site on the statewide birding trail.

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