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story.lead_photo.caption The old U.S. 79 bridge at Clarendon is no longer open to traffic and is scheduled to be torn down in the coming months, but a group fighting to save the bridge and turn it into a bike and pedestrian trail hasn’t given up. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

Saying his hands are tied, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza on Wednesday dissolved his court order blocking construction crews from demolishing the historic White River bridge in Clarendon.

People who united to try and save it through a lawsuit called the span “a symbol of American strength, craftsmanship and freedom of expression" and an "engineering marvel and a core part of Arkansas history that … [sits] near the original road from Memphis to Little Rock [and] on the route of the historic Trail of Tears.”

Supporters further warned that losing the bridge — with its potential to attract tourism revenue to Monroe County — would be the death blow for the White River city at the mouth of the Cache River.

The bridge, built in 1931 to replace a ferry, ran right through Clarendon, a 159-year-old town of about 2,000. The new bridge is also in the wildlife sanctuaries but it now diverts drivers past the Monroe County seat.

Wednesday was the deadline Piazza set for bridge supporters to work out a way to save it. He had blocked demolition in March.

Federal authorities are going to tear down the 87-year-old bridge, so the area will revert to its natural state in the wildlife sanctuaries on the White and Cache rivers, which are run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A plan to hold talks between state and federal authorities on possibly saving the bridge suddenly collapsed this week, plaintiff attorney John Gill told the judge.

Tearing down the structure, which Clarendon had hoped to turn into a bird-watching platform as part of a bigger renovation effort to attract tourism, seems like a waste of resources, but it’s not his decision to make, Piazza said. But sovereign immunity — which makes Arkansas practically lawsuit-proof — must prevail, the judge said.

Razing the bridge is the final part of an 18-year process replace to the span on U.S. 79 with a safer structure and to have the original site return to nature, lawyers for the Arkansas Highway Commission and the Arkansas Department of Transportation told the judge. They said the bridge fans have had at least nine years to get ready for demolition but instead waited until the last moment to intervene.

Read Thursday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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  • hogfan2012
    July 18, 2018 at 1 p.m.

    Makes me sad.....

  • larbecca03301125
    July 18, 2018 at 1:12 p.m.

    I can't recall how many times through the years I traveled U. S. Highway 79 and remember the northern approach to this bridge, and marveled at the concrete barriers on either side. And, now, or soon, it will all be gone. My only question: why the city of Clarendon of waited until the last moment to try and save the structure? Perhaps they believed, or hoped, outside interest would create a firestorm. It's apparent this didn't happen. Why? Because traffic on U. S. 79 isn't what is was, thanks to Interstate 40. And, in the interest of "PROGRESS," U. S. 79, and its new ultra-modern and less than attractive bridge bypasses the city altogether.
    PROGRESS sometimes is an ugly word. PROGRESS is sometimes the enemy of preservation, too.

  • BEARTRAP919
    July 18, 2018 at 2:45 p.m.

    And Progress is sometimes Going Backward rather than Forward, Big Government always Wins in the End, That is to say Big Money always Wins. This Bridge and Elevated Highway is a Sight to see and was a Vital Path through this Forest. Just Like Abortions, Some old White Man somewhere knows what is best for you, and he will see that his Will Prevails. SAD, SO SAD TO SEE THIS Bridge Scrapped in the name of progress.

  • jonathonjackson
    July 18, 2018 at 4:38 p.m.

    did rbear refer to tearing this bridge down with killing a little child, Liberal loon, i say leave the bridge and DONT KILL THE BABY

  • sjhurst
    July 18, 2018 at 4:39 p.m.

    This will be the loss of an Arkansas treasure. Heartbreaking.

  • Lsull
    July 18, 2018 at 6:08 p.m.

    I don't know all the details as to why it must be torn down, other than I read where they already contracted earlier to remove it. Just think of the hardship of the builders159 years ago. Its a historic site and while it has little use left, my grandmother was like that bridge we wouldn't think of putting her down.

  • arkateacher54
    July 19, 2018 at 2:02 a.m.

    If it's standing still someone wants to tear it down. If it's flowing someone wants to dam it up. If it's flat someone wants to pave over it, or if it isn't someone has to flatten it. If there are trees someone wants to bulldoze them. If it's old, those born after it was built want to raze it. If there is a roadside fools have to throw trash in it. If there is a numbskull people will elect him to public office. People just do dumb stuff.

  • Lsull
    July 19, 2018 at 8:49 a.m.

    Very well said, speaks for all of us teacher.

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