Some oppose bridge demolition


Several local citizens have expressed their disapproval through social media regarding the possible demolition of the West Chestnut Avenue Bridge in Arkansas City. The Cowley County Commission passed a motion Tuesday to seek demolition bids. The bridge was built in 1914, and closed due to excessive damage in 1999.

Plans to demolish the abandoned West Chestnut Bridge has some community support, but not everybody is happy.

The approach to the bridge has become an eyesore of trash, overgrown weeds and graffiti, and the bridge area has been the site of at least three suicides and several boating accidents. Cowley County Commissioners this week decided to seek bids for demolition for the structure, which closed in 1999 and continues to deteriorate.

Emergency Management Coordinator Robert Frazee said that removal of the bridge would help with flood control. He said the bridge acts like a dam when flooding occurs.

"If we get those pillars out of there, that's going to help with the flow of the river through there," he said.

But some residents have fond memories of the bridge and use it for fishing or would like to see it as a pedestrian path. Several expressed their opinions through the Ark City Ask and Answered Facebook page in response to a story about the planned demolition.

Some people suggested that the bridge could be joined to the nearby walking trail that bends south around Veterans Memorial Lake.

Elissa Rayne said that if the bridge is removed, it will take away a place that some people visit to find peace or grieve.

"When my brother went missing, I would go there to get away, to think, clear my head of all the mess that was going on in my life," she said.

Kolton Dis David said that getting rid of the bridge will not stop the suicides.

"It'll only upset a whole lot of people, including myself," he said. "I say let there be a petition."

Some commenters support removing the bridge, saying that it would be the best decision.

Lloyd Colston said that it didn’t make sense to put money into a bridge that does not connect to public property on both sides. He said the condition of the bridge also makes it dangerous.

"What liability does the city face by leaving it in a condition where someone walking across it may trip and fall or a chunk falls off to injure a boater?" he asked.

According to an article in the Traveler archives, the bridge was built in 1914 at a cost of $24,565. It was closed in the spring of 1999 after a consultant engineer told the county the bridge arches were in danger of collapsing due to the loss of gravel and sand -- placed to allow for possible expansion -- that had fallen out. Repair costs at that time were estimated at more $1 million.

Curt Freeland, who served as city manager, said that the bridge would not be rebuilt but suggested that it could be used as a pier or a walkway.

"We indicated that we would give that further review," he said at the time.

A letter to the editor that was written by Pete Schrag in 2007 said that the closing of the bridge wrote off any future housing development on the west side of the river and also increased emergency vehicle response time. He said that the city leaders should have fought for funds to make the needed repairs.

"We should all want as many ways in and out of our town as possible, not fewer," he said. "Chestnut Avenue should be restored as a fully functional East-West access."

No improvements to the bridge appear to have been made since it closed,and it has continued to deteriorate.

City Commissioner Jay Warren said Friday that there was some discussion about turning the bridge into a recreational area, where people could fish.

"But it definitely never happened," he said. "That's about all I know about it."

Warren said during his tenure on the city commission, the only discussion that he can remember concerning the bridge was the possibility of creating a landing there for the airboats.

Warren said he understands the concerns about several suicides and boating accidents in the area. But he doesn’t think it is necessary to remove the bridge.

"I think it is kind of silly to take that bridge out myself,"he said. "I'm not exactly sure about what the county?s purpose is for taking that bridge out."

Demolition costs are estimated to be between $100,000 to $250,000.

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