A washed out road with a closed bridge were hot topics during a public forum at the Grinder Man Restaurant in Arkansas City on Monday.
More than 50 people gathered to express their concerns, ask questions and hear reports about the flood damaged roadway and the fate of the East Chestnut Avenue bridge, which has been closed since the flooding in early May. Packing the restaurant to standing room only, the group came loaded with suggestions, complaints and even arguments as they demanded answers.
Cowley County Administrator Lucas Goff, county commissioner Bob Voegele, and city commissioners Kanyon Gingher and Dan Jurkovich attended to address those concerns and explain the processes involved toward making repairs.
Despite clamor for action, Voegele said fixing the bridge and reopening that major passage would take time.
He said he wouldn’t support any action until engineers advised him on what needs to be done to make the bridge compliant, and warned that it could take six months to a year to work out all of the details and funding.
Voegele said the bridge itself was thought to be in good shape, but that erosion of the embankment from the river to the road was biggest concern. He said repair cost could run between $600,000 and $800,000.
The county hopes FEMA would help with the costs but Voegle said he is doubtful.
“I think the government’s going to look at it and say ‘You’ve got a bridge a half mile to the north and a half mile to the south, why are we going to spend money on this bridge?’” he said, referring to the bridges at U.S. 166 and East Madison Avenue.
Jurkovich said that if the bridge were eliminated, it would create another problem that could cost the city more than $300,000. He said all of the water services for that side of the city go over that bridge.
“If the bridge is eliminated, we have to build some structure that holds that water pipe, or we’ll have to spend a much higher price to build a pump station to take the water across on Madison,” he said.
The county owns the bridge, but Jurkovich said the city would have to be involved one way or another.
Goff said if FEMA did provide repair funds, it would require a 75 percent match. The state has declared the county to be a disaster area, but the federal government has not.
“So we’re in a holding pattern at this point,” Goff said.
One of the concerns expressed during the forum was the question of who is actually responsible for the repairs, which entities should pay, and what amounts.
Jurkovich observed that from the east side, the city owns the road up to the bridge, the county owns the bridge, the township owns the road up to the bypass, and the Corp of Engineers is responsible for the river.
Jim Sybrant, who lives east of the bridge, said he was tired of watching various government entities play the game of who is responsible.
“The Corp is responsible, the city is responsible, the county is responsible, the township needs to help,” he said. “We all need to do it.”
Sybrant said he understands the city and county reluctance to dig up $600,000 and the make the effort to get funding from the federal government, but they are creating a fear that the bridge will just be closed permanently.
“I’ll be damned if they are going to close that bridge,” he said. “I promise you they won’t close that bridge. If I’ve got a life left in me, they will not close that bridge.”
Sybrant said that if the city can spend $500,000 on a walking trail it can find money to fix the bridge. He claimed the area east of the bridge does not get back in services who it pays in taxes.
“Ark City doesn’t start and stop at the Chestnut Bridge,” he said. “ Ark City is the entire community that reaches out into Parkerfield and IXL and all these other areas, so why don’t we all work together?”
Gingher, the city commissioner, said an estimated 2,000 people use that road and bridge each day. Detours are causing delays and increased traffic in other areas, and emergency services are also affected.
The fire chief said there could be a three-minute delay getting to a house fire or paramedic call, Gingher said.
Voegele said it is understandable that everyone wants immediate action, but he warned that there would be no quick fix.
“I’m not going to open that road back up and have that bank fade off and not have the correct bank going there to save peoples lives,” he said. “If we don’t fix that whole embankment, the county becomes liable for anything that goes on.”
The county commission is expected to address the bridge at its next meeting, which starts at 9 a.m. July 2 at the courthouse in Winfield.