Kalona ponders future of fire-damaged bridge
KALONA (GTNS) — More than 100 people attended a public meeting Tuesday at the Kalona Chamber of Commerce to discuss what the next step should be for the Bunker Mill Bridge.
On Aug. 11, a fire believed to be set intentionally damaged the Bunker Mill Bridge. At the Board of Supervisors meeting Sept. 3, Washington County engineer Jacob Thorius said the bridge was a liability for the county. He said he would rather save the bridge, but there would be no funds spent from the county’s secondary roads funds to repair the bridge.
The focus of the meeting was renovation, Schlabaugh said. He stressed something to the people at the meeting.
“It’s going to take a grassroots effort,” he said. “It’s not going to be solely on the state, it’s not going to be solely on the county, it’s going to take individuals that have come together to form a group to save the bridge.”
The City of Kalona had planned on using the bridge as part of a trail from Kalona to Richmond. They had received $292,000 from a Department of Transportation enhancement fund designed for trails. Also, the city has applied for $90,000 in REAP funds for a trail around the city park, which would eventually link up to the Kalona Richmond Trail. They will find out if they received those funds on Tuesday, Schlabaugh said.
Julie Bowers with the North Skunk River Greenbelt Association Working Bridges was at the meeting to discuss saving the bridge. Bowers told the attendees she was impressed by the turnout and that the bridge could be saved.
She started the non-profit group after Poweshiek County demolished a bridge just like the Bunker Mill Bridge. Now her group travels across the United States renovating historical bridges. They just finished a truss style bridge in Dubina, Texas.
Bowers came to Kalona earlier this month to look at the bridge. She said there is more damage to the south side of the bridge because the abutment has been burned out.
“But your bridge is fixable,” she said. “One of the solutions we would bring to the table is to re-deck this bridge, put up some guard rails, and just make it so you can have a crossing again.”
Another solution is to take the bridge completely apart and rebuild it the same way the bridge was originally built, she said. If a rivet were taken out, then another rivet would be put back in its place.
The cost to have the group’s experts, an ironworker and an engineer look at the bridge would be $5,000, Bowers said. They could come to look at it by the beginning of October.
“I do think it needs to stay exactly where it is,” Bowers said. “That is important to Kalona, it’s important to your county, and it’s the reason why you have your town here.”
Bowers said if a group were formed to save the bridge, tentatively called The Friends of the Bunker Mill Bridge, NSRGA could become the parent organization. The new group could use the NRSGA’s 501c3 status to apply for grants, do the taxes, and seek donations.
The group would also become the owner of the bridge and have liability for it while it is under construction. She sent a tentative ownership agreement to the county.
Schlabaugh asked Washington County Attorney Larry Brock if he thought the agreement was feasible.
“I have seen the agreement,” Brock said. “I don’t have any problems with it, but it’s up to the supervisors to make the final decision as to what they want to do with it. Frankly, I’d be a little more concerned as to who would be the owner of the bridge.”
Brock said it was still unclear who would own the bridge after renovation. The agreement he received said the bridge would go back to the county. He said this would be a question Thorius and the group would have to work out.
Thorius was asked what the rush was to have the bridge demolished. He responded and said it was because it had become an increased liability for the county.
“Before, you could walk across the deck of the bridge safely,” Thorius said. “You cannot do that anymore. People last week tried to get on the bridge. There have been other people who have tried to get on the bridge before last week. It is now not a safe bridge to walk across; that is the increased liability.”
Thorius said he was also concerned about the possibility of the bridge washing away if there is a flood next spring, which the county would be liable for if it happened.
The meeting wrapped up after an hour. Schlabaugh said high attendance showed the community’s interest in saving the bridge. He plans to appear before the supervisors Tuesday update them about what the city and the group would like to do to the bridge.
After the public meeting was held on, an organization was formed to try to save the bridge.
The organization is called the Friends of Bunker Mill Bridge. Tuesday evening four officers were installed and four board members joined the group. The officers are president Raymond Tinnian, vice president Scott Allen, treasurer Jim Hussey, secretary Doris Parks, and managing director Suzanne Micheau. The board members are David and Susan Finley, Tom Marsh, and Sue Ellen Crosslea.
Allen said he decided to become involved because of his family’s connection to the bridge.
“David Bunker was my great-great-grandfather,” Allen said, “and this bridge is extremely important to me. If it wasn’t for that mill [Bunker Mill] and that bridge, Kalona wouldn’t be here.”
The next step for the group will be to present a proposal to the Washington County supervisors asking for more time and consideration to save the bridge, Allen said.
Micheau said an agreement was signed with Bowers. Bowers will have her experts, an engineer and an ironworker, come and evaluate the bridge, which would cost $5,000. $1,000 has been raised already.
“They don’t have to fix it,” Micheau said. “Just let us do it. There’s no reason for not keeping the bridge.”
After the evaluation is done, the group will know more about what the costs would be to renovate or rebuild Bunker Mill Bridge. Then it would seek ownership of the bridge until it is fully renovated or rebuilt, Micheau said.
She already has an idea for what could happen to that area once the bridge is done.
“I would like to see it become a county park,” she said. “It is such a beautiful wildlife area down there. It’s so pristine.”
Both Micheau and Allen will attend the supervisors meeting Tuesday.
“Ultimately, they are the ones who decide what happens,” Allen said. “They are already letting bids for demolition and it could be gone. It’s not just bridging a river but bridging generations.”
Allen said he was pleased with all of the public officials, including the supervisors, who attended the meeting Tuesday night. He said this shows they’re thinking about the bridge and he hopes the supervisors listen to those who want to save the bridge.
Washington County engineer Jacob Thorius attended the meeting Tuesday night. He said he wanted to see the bridge saved but the condition of the bridge currently was too much of a liability since becoming damaged by fire on Aug. 11. If someone is to hurt himself or herself trying to cross the bridge, the county might be liable for any injuries that person may have received and could be sued. The county engineer’s department has received bids for the demolition of the bridge, and Thorius said the estimated cost is $80,000.
Kalona City Administrator Ryan Schlabaugh will appear before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Sept. 17, to give them a report from the public meeting held about saving Bunker Mill Bridge.