Cowley County commissioners and Arkansas City commissioners came to preliminary agreement about work they could do to get the East Chestnut Avenue Bridge repaired and reopened, but the county is still waiting for a Kansas Department of Transportation report on the bridge’s condition before they officially make a commitment to any project.

Arkansas City Manager Nick Hernandez said he and county administrator Lukas Goff will compose a memo of understanding setting out what both entities expect from a commitment to working together. Part of that agreement would be sharing the cost of repairs and rebuilds.

County commission chair Bob Voegele reminded the Ark City commission that the county had tabled action on the bridge until Nov. 19. County counselor Mark Krusor said the county was not bound by that action, but the county commissioners still want to hold to it for now.

Goff presented both commissions with a list of possible actions, but the first one, fixing the bridge and reopening the road, was the only one the group looked at. 

That plan would call for repair of the west approach of the bridge and the northwest bank of the river to a point where the guard rails are replaced, the road patched and the bridge reopened to traffic. Cost would be about $250,000, to be shared by the county and the city 50/50.

Cowley County would rely on the 2019 bridge study to determine at what level the bridge could be open. For example, if the bridge could be opened as a two-lane (vehicle no heavier than) five-ton bridge. 

If the county receives FEMA funds, the money would be split between the city and county. Cowley County would require the City of Ark City to have the water line removed from the bridge within 18 months. This would allow for the county, if a sales tax were approved, to repair bridges, consider repair or replacement to the bridge without interference of utility services relocation in the future.

Randy Mars, of Cresswell Township, which is responsible for the west approach to the bridge, said the township has no money to pay for anything. 

Goff said the county had applied to FEMA for $600,000 which they would share with the township so it could fix the road. Goff said Thursday that $600,000 is a low figure which they applied for before they learned there may be other serious problems with the bridge.

Newest city commissioner Jim Sybrant talked about figuring out what needs to be fixed and how to fix it and getting on with the project. You “don’t fix the gate that still swings,” Sybrant said. 

He spoke about materials available in the city and the county that could be used for some repairs. County commissioner Alan Groom spoke of some stockpiled material that could be used for some repairs. Groom said he is “all for getting (the project) done.”

Voegele reminded the audience that the East Chestnut Bridge is only one of 260 bridges for which the county is responsible. Most of the bridges are 75 to 90 years old, and there is no plan in place to repair all of them.

Commissioner Wayne Wilt told the audience that money from FEMA is not a sure thing. In fact, he said, the county had just received a rejection Tuesday afternoon of a request for funding to repair the Hackney Bridge. 

“I don’t think we should do a whole heck of a lot until we get the report on the structural problems (of the East Chestnut Bridge).

Ark City commissioner Duane Oestmann said he thought that even if the bridge were condemned, the city and county “should probably” still work for the long term to keep it open and usable.

Ark City mayor Jay Warren said the city and county should go ahead with plans for fixing the bridge and the road and the river because interest rates are currently low, making loans more affordable. He suggested a 15-year game plan to see what they need to do and how to get it done.

Goff said the county is looking at the possibility of a sales tax that would enable them to work on improving the county’s infrastructure, particularly the bridges.

Anita Judd-Jenkins, of Arkansas City, said there’s a feeling in Ark City that the city is not getting its “fair share.”

She mentioned the county’s replacing two bridges — one on 112th Road and another on 14th Avenue in Winfield. She was told the 14th Avenue bridge belongs to the City of Winfield and they replaced it.

Goff explained that the county applies for 80/20 federal grants that come through the state. The state pays 80 percent to replace a bridge and the county 20 percent.

Goff said he wants to make sure the public is clear about the options open to the county and city before they take action.

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