A years-long effort to save the 2¼-mile 1931 Clarendon Bridge is coming to an end. A judge has given us until May 29 to save it, and if we fail, it will be torn down.
A few years ago, we formed a citizens group to save the bridge from destruction and "repurpose" it as a hiking and biking trail. Thousands of citizens have supported our effort. But our government wants it demolished. And our government has the power and the money. We know the men and women in these agencies of government, and all of them are honorable adversaries.
We want to save the bridge to build tourism in the Delta. The bridge would be the highlight of the cycling route through the Delta between Little Rock and the Mississippi River Trail that is being built along the Mississippi between St. Louis and New Orleans. In Arkansas, we have seen the impact of bicycling with the Razorback Trail, the new Delta Heritage Trail, the Big Dam Bridge and other trails being planned.
All 2 ¼ miles of the bridge go right through the wilds of the 550,000-acre Big Woods that envelop the Cache and White rivers. And the beauty of this bridge is sublime.
The picture accompanying this column was made this week by Burton Moore, a resident of Clarendon. His family has lived around Clarendon for generations, and Burt, his wife and two sons have led our efforts to save the bridge. They know what its destruction would mean--a huge, ugly gash in our beloved Delta.
Here are the facts of the bridge: An $11.3 million contract to demolish it has been let to a company in Mississippi but has been suspended until the May 29 court-ordered suspension is lifted. To prepare for our alternative plan of repurposing the bridge for tourism, we retained Kimley-Horn, a nationwide engineering design firm with 2,800 employees in 75 U.S. offices. The estimate for a complete renovation of the bridge is $5,376,000, $5 million of which we would have automatic access to from the same source as the demolition funds--and our repurposing plan would be $6 million less federal spending than demolition. The maintenance cost would be $60,000 annually, which our group has ensured will be paid. No city, county, state or federal funds would be used to maintain the bridge.
Parts of the bridge that obstructed the flow of water when the rivers have one of their frequent floods have been removed. The bridge now minimally obstructs the flow of water. The bridge will not have any negative impact on farming, hunting or fishing. Those are the basic facts.
We are at the end of our effort. We have about 65 days before the court-ordered suspension of the demolition is lifted. Unless there is a change from the government, demolition will begin the day after the court order is lifted.
As this great paper said in an editorial on Feb. 17, "... we don't understand why the government needs to tear down the Old White River Bridge in Clarendon. It seems that maybe the paperwork was in order and somebody signed it in the right place and the government went into motion. And like a battleship, government doesn't often turn on a dime. Call it momentum." Amen.
Our group, Friends of the Historic White River Bridge at Clarendon, is asking Arkansas' members of Congress to help us change the demolition decision so we can repurpose the bridge. We will be talking with each of them. We are particularly hopeful that Sen. John Boozman will help us. He serves as chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife that has oversight of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency that is leading the effort to demolish the Clarendon Bridge. Jim Stinson, the mayor of Clarendon, has asked Senator Boozman to meet with him.
That we could see this bridge demolished by our government spending $11.3 million is an aesthetic insult. All that we value in its beauty and permanence would be ripped from our heritage. Arkansas citizens want this bridge saved. If you can help or have questions, please email me at email@example.com. You can contribute to our effort at bit.ly/whiteriverbridge.
Porter Briggs is a resident of Little Rock and vice president of the Board of the Friends of the Historic White River Bridge at Clarendon, a 501(c)3 nonprofit.
Editorial on 03/22/2018
Print Headline: Can we save it? Still life in Clarendon Bridge