June 24, 2004

Troopers Called In To Guard Bridge

Contractors Begin Ripping Up Decking On Clarkton Bridge

GUARDING THE BRIDGE - Virginia State Troopers D.J. Cline and T.C. Comer were on duty yesterday, guarding the entrance to the Clarkton Bridge after demolition of the structure began on Wednesday morning. (SOMcL photo)
The sound of hammers ripping up the decking on the 102 year old Clarkton Bridge resounded through the wooded path that leads to the historic old structure on Wednesday morning as a concrete barricade prevented the public from getting near it.

Members of the Virginia State Police carefully guarded the path that leads from Clarkton Road to the bridge. "I've been here since 3 a.m.," said'Trooper D. J. Cline, who along with Trooper T.C. Comer were on duty just before noon yesterday. The bridge area, they said, will be under the surveillance of members of the department around the clock.

Earlier yesterday there were seven troopers stationed on the Halifax County side with another seven positioned at the Charlotte County approach.

But according to Virginia State Police Public Information Officer Sgt. D. 0. Cooper, there had been no problems in the area. "We had a few people stop by to see what was going on, but there was no controversy," Cooper said as he relieved most of the troopers from their posts at the bridge.

Earlier some residents had urged a sit-in to try to prevent contractors from beginning their task of demolishing the bridge, an order which had been sent down on June 2 by State Transportation Commissioner Philip A. Shucet.

Supporters who want to preserve the historic old camelback truss structure said yesterday that removal of the decking will in no way stop their efforts to save the bridge. "We will continue to ratchet up the pressure on Richmond to give us time to work out a way to save the bridge. The decking probably will have to be replaced anyway," said Jack Dunavant, chairman of Southside Concerned Citizens, who organized a Sunday afternoon rally of several hundred citizens at the bridge to show public support for its preservation.

Removal of the decking, according to local VDOT Engineer Joe Barkley, will likely take some three weeks to complete with the removal of the steel trusses coming after that. Questioned about the permits for the removal of the steel beams and the possible chipping of lead based paint from the beams into the Staunton River, Barkley said the department's permit deals largely with environmental , issues. However, Barkley said the permit numbers which are posted on a blue card on the Charlotte County side of the bridge also cover any hazardous material problems. "I went back to check on that and I can assure you that hazardous materials are covered in the permit he said.

Continuing the effort to preserve the bridge, former Delegate Ted Bennett Monday night urged Halifax County Supervisors to join with the county's Industrial Development Authority in seeking a 45 day reprieve to work toward the creation of a regional authority with Charlotte County to take over joint ownership of the bridge.

Following Bennett's presentation Supervisors "put their money where their mouths are" as they voted unanimously to allocate up to $20,000 in a move to preserve the bridge. Their decision came after Bennett and Dunavant asked that they endorse a resolution passed earlier by members of the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority which seeks a 45 day delay in the demolition of the historic old structure.

The requested delay, according to Bennett, would give Halifax and Charlotte County Supervisors enough time to form a regional authority to take over permanent ownership of the bridge and preserve it for recreational use - hiking, biking and bird watching.

And on Tuesday night, Charlotte County Supervisors also unanimously endorsed the creation of a regional authority to take over ownership of the bridge.

But despite their best efforts, Halifax County Supervisors were rebuked by Shucet who responded early Tuesday morning to an e-mail sent to him by County Administrator Joe Morgan around 11 p.m. Monday night after Supervisors had voted to seek the 45 day reprieve, including money to support their effort.

At 9:23 a.m. Tuesday morning Shucet responded "this decision to remove the bridge is final. The decision will not be revoked or reconsidered. The matter is closed."

Earlier in his Tuesday correspondence Shucet wrote to Morgan "I sincerely appreciate your interest in preserving the Clarkton Bridge. I know your efforts are genuine and well intended. A third reprieve for the Clarkton Bridge will not be granted. In the overriding interest of public safety, the bridge will be removed.

"After a careful review of the body of knowledge related to the Clarkton Bridge since closings in 1990, 1996 and 1998, including the most recent reports prepared by the Department in January and March of this year, I have concluded decisively that the Clarkton Bridge must be removed. I realize that differing opinions prevail, and I respect those opinions. We have passed the time for additional reprieves."

The resolution which was passed by the Supervisors read: "That the Board of Supervisors (of Halifax County) match up to $20,000 from Charlotte County toward creation of an authority for the preservation of the Clarkton Bridge and that the Board of Supervisors does support creation of such authority on a joint basis with Charlotte County, which proposal is to be deliberated over the next forty-five days, if such reprieve is granted by the Virginia Department of Transportation."

As of Tuesday afternoon VDOT had posted "No Trespassing" signs on the bridge and members of the Virginia State Police had been called out about 3 p.m. to begin enforcement of the signage, insuring that no one got on the bridge, despite talk of a night long sit-in to prevent contractors from beginning demolition on Wednesday.