Bridge debate continues

Published 9:49 am Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Charlotte County Board of Supervisors recently adopted a resolution on a 6-1 vote to support the efforts of “We the People of Virginia” (WPV) to rehabilitate the Clarkton Bridge and preserve the historical integrity of the structure.

“Really all they’re asking you for is your support of their efforts to negotiate with VDOT (Virginia Department of Transportation) and I might add other agencies, . . .” said Charlotte County’s Attorney Russell Slayton. “I think it supports these folks without committing any county resources to this effort.”

The resolution also included exploring the possibility of ownership of the bridge being transferred to WPV.

The resolution said if the group acquired ownership, they would continue to fund efforts to rehabilitate the bridge.

However, when asked if VDOT transfers ownership of bridges to private groups, VDOT spokeswoman Paula K. Jones said, “the simple answer is no, however, the General Assembly can do so. The Virginia Marine Resources Commission would need to be consulted because while VDOT owns the structure, we do not control the riverbed and other natural features beneath it.”

We the People of Virginia has a 501c3 tax designation and according to Slayton, he said he thought the group worked years ago to secure funds to accomplish the goal of rehabilitating the bridge to preserve its history.

Clarkton Bridge Alliance representative P.K. Pettus said at VDOT’s invitation, a public process was facilitated to exchange ideas and review information as part of the Section 106 process conducted by VDOT the last 14 months.

She said a draft memorandum of Agreement was reviewed at the September stakeholder’s meeting and an MOA reflected the consensus achieved at the June 2017 meeting of the Clarkton Bridge stakeholders.

“The resolution adopted by the BOS (Board of Supervisors) is not consistent with that consensus,” said Pettus. “Many of us who attended all four stakeholders’ meetings (September 2016, February 2017, June 2017 and September 2017) and the public hearing in September 2017 were surprised — to put it mildly — that this resolution was a late addition to the BOS November meeting agenda. We were surprised there was no opportunity for public comment after the resolution was introduced.”

The Clarkton Bridge, a historical fixture that spans the Staunton River between Charlotte and Halifax counties, has been deemed unsafe and closed to pedestrian traffic since May 2015.

Slayton said the bridge was originally constructed for use by vehicles and pedestrians. However, VDOT has determined the bridge is no longer usable at the present time due to its condition.

WPV Chairman Jack Dunnavant said he disagrees with VDOT’s assessment of the bridge and “would drive his brand-new pickup truck across that bridge until the cows come home.”

In June, Pettus said the bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Obtaining a federal permit or applying for federal funds triggers a Section 106 Review under the National Historic Preservation Act. In this case, it’s VDOT’s need for a permit,” Pettus said.

According to Pettus, because the Stanton River is a navigable waterway, VDOT will need a federal permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to work in the river.

“I think that the general consensus, I believe, was that everybody understands that the condition that the bridge is in it cannot stay,” Scot Shippee said at a June meeting of the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors.

At that time, he said it was most likely that within the next 18 months the bridge would come down. However, Shippee said options are being weighed to preserve pieces of the existing bridge.

Dunnavant said “that is a gorgeous bridge. To tear that down is a crime. A crime against humanity. We’re doing everything we can to see that doesn’t happen.”

Pettus previously said Bridge Preservation Expert Steve Olson of Olson and Nesvold Engineers was hired to review VDOT’s documents.

According to information provided by Halifax Town Manager Carl Espy regarding Olson’s site, a roster of alternatives presented by VDOT in September 2016 included two demolition options, two replacement options and a single historic reconstruction option estimated at $10.7 million.

Pettus previously said while VDOT will not accept Olson’s suggestion to preserve the bridge, other options are available.

According to Slayton, options include removing the bridge, restoring the bridge as a historical structure, removing the bridge and removing it with a new structure for pedestrian traffic only or removing it and replacing the bridge with a new structure for pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

“We really appreciate your support. We’re dealing with VDOT. They’re the big boys, we’re little boys,” said Dunnavant.