The future of Bunker Mill Bridge
KALONA—Over 100 people were in attendance at a public meeting held on Tuesday, Sept. 10, at the Kalona Chamber of Commerce to discuss what the next step should be for the Bunker Mill Bridge.
On Sunday, Aug. 11, a fire damaged the Bunker Mill Bridge. At the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 3, Washington County engineer Jacob Thorius said the bridge was a liability for the county, as reported in The Journal. 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.
Kalona City Administrator Ryan Schlabaugh asked the supervisors for more time to see how much interest would be to save the bridge. This was the goal of the meeting Tuesday night.
The focus of the meeting was renovation, Schlabaugh said. He stressed something to the people at the meeting last night.
“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, Schlabaugh said. 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 Sept. 17, Schlabaugh said.
Julie Bowers with the North Skunk River Greenbelt Association (NSRGA) 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 up a truss style bridge in Dubina, Texas.
Bowers came to Kalona last week 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 forth to the table is what would it take to re-deck this bridge, put up some guard rails, and just make it so you can have a crossing again.”
Another solution would to take the bridge completely apart and rebuild it the same way the bridge was originally was built, Bower 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’s at,” 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 for saving the bridge, tentatively called The Friends of the Bunker Mill Bridge, NSRGA could become the parent organization. They could use the NRSGA’s 501(c)(3) 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, Bowers said. 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 he didn’t think there was anything established as to who would own the bridge after it is renovated. In the agreement he was sent it said it 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 there was a viable interest to save the bridge and he said he would appear before the supervisors on Sept. 17 to update them about what the city and the group would like to have happen to the bridge.
A smaller meeting was held to form a group called The Friends of The Bunker Mill Bridge afterward and officers were elected. Please see tomorrow’s edition of The Journal for more information about the group.