The future of the closed Chestnut Avenue bridge was a major topic of discussion during a Arkansas City Commission work session Friday, with local officials concerned that county officials would not reopen the bridge.
Mayor Jay Warren said he attended a Cowley County commission meeting Tuesday to discuss possible options. Warren said the county was not going to make a decision until November.
“They’re waiting to see how much FEMA money will be coming in,” he said. “My impression of the commissioners, they’re going to shut her down.”
Commissioner Duane Oestmann agreed.
“I kind of got the impression from the commissioners that they didn’t want to do anything,” he said.
The bridge over the Walnut River has been closed since May. The 1925-structure has served as one of three traffic crossings into over the river in east Ark City, but it is owned by the county.
Planning Commission Chair Scott Rogers said he thinks the county is dragging the decision out, hoping fewer people attend their meetings as time passed.
“People will get used to the bridge being closed, and it won’t be an issue,” he said, “Then when there’s not many people, I think they’ll pull the trigger.”
County Administrator Lucas Goff, in a phone interview Friday, said the county board of commissioners would not be investing staff time and finances if there was no interest in making the bridge operational.
He said commissioners are trying to make sure they had all of the necessary information to make a sound decision.
A study presented this week by an engineering firm estimated that it would cost about $4.7 million to build a new bridge, a new approach roadway and fix the riverbank.
“That kind of dollar figure is substantial,” Goff said, “I think they’re making sure they don’t spent money and then find out they could have spent money better.”
Efforts to reach Commissioner Bob Voegele, whose district includes the bridge, were unsuccessful on Friday.
Rogers said if the bridge was permanently closed, a new issue would have to be addressed by either Ark City or Parkerfield.
He said Country Club Road would need to be widened to accommodate those who now use the road to hike, bike and jog.
‘You see people jogging in weeds to get out of the road because there is nowhere to jog with all of the cars,” he said. “That’s quality of life itself for people up there.”
Citizen Christie Rogers said she felt the county was allowing people to speak at meetings but then forgetting everything that was presented as soon as the door was closed.
City and county officials need to meet together and discuss what is really being done, she said, and that speaking to county officials had not proven effective.
“The only dog they’ve got in the fight is the bridge,” she said. “But as city members, we’ve got a ton of stuff in that fight between the roads, quality of life and the ambulance service.”
Christie said while she has heard that the county has talked to FEMA, she has not seen any proof that an application has actually been made.
Hernandez said one of the big problems with getting FEMA funding was that the flooding didn’t cause the damage to the bridge.
Goff said a FEMA application was submitted more than a month ago. He said FEMA told them it would take time to process that application due to the fact they are still working on last year’s projects.
“It’s there, I did it,” he said.
Scott Rogers said he had doubts that new information about the bridge’s condition was accurate. The county recently said it is in worse shape than previously thought, and engineers have recommended rebuilding the entire bridge or tearing it down.
Goff said an engineer made a statement during Tuesday’s county commission meeting that newly presented pictures of the bridge were the same as in a 2017-2018 evaluation.
“It’s not, and the reason I am so confident with this is I took those pictures,” Goff said of the new photos. “I have pictures of me taking those pictures.”
Goff said the commission has never stated that the bridge is impassable, only that it has reached it lifespan.
The argument is over whether it is efficient to spend $600,000 to $800,000 to fix the approach to a bridge that doesn’t have a long life or spend more than $2 million to install a bridge that will last another 60 to 100 years.
“That’s the conversation,” Goff said. “Never has the conversation been that we’re not going to fix it.”
Goff said he is currently waiting to hear from county commissioners and then set up a meeting with officials from Ark City, Parkerfield and the Creswell.
“Until now we didn’t have any data to talk about,” he said. “We had assumptions and now we’ve got facts.”