B.B. Comer Bridge group concedes defeat

Nov. 27, 2015

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TIMES FREE PRESS - by Ben Benton

A group in Scottsboro, Ala., that has spent the better part of three years trying to save the old B.B. Comer Bridge over the Tennessee River is calling it quits.

Cue up the wrecking ball.

"It's not what we wanted, but we have no other choice now," said Charles Holderfield of the Comer Bridge Foundation.

Over the past three years, foundation members pressed Scottsboro and Jackson County government officials for support but gained little interest.

"The biggest thing that upset us was that a lot of supporters in the county were asking us about the County Commission vote," Holderfield said. "We went to them on three separate occasions; once to present the $1 million offer we offered them, then we went back and asked if we were going to be on the agenda for a vote and then they finally put it on the agenda at a work session for their regular meeting."

When Holderfield went to that meeting on Nov. 9, commissioners brought up the bridge topic for a motion — but no motion was made, leaving the bridge matter to die on the floor, he said.

"We could have accepted a 'no' vote much easier than we could no vote at all," Holderfield said.

"All we wanted from the county was to take us under the park system," Holderfield said. "We were ready to sign a contract to take full responsibility for the bridge for up to 99 years and we'd have put the $1 million in an interest-bearing account to cover the costs."

He said government officials mistakenly had the impression that taxpayers could be saddled with a burden. The $1 million figure arises from negotiations with the bridge demolition contractor to turn over money intended to raze the bridge to the foundation for upkeep instead, Holderfield said.

District 3 Commissioner Dennis Miller said Wednesday that he and fellow commissioners liked the idea of preserving the old bridge, too, but were worried about the county's looming budget problems and weren't anxious to take any financial risks.

"Like many counties, we're in a financial downfall," Miller said. "At this time, we have no guarantee that some of the expense or liability wouldn't fall back on us.

"I love the old bridge, but it was not among our priority issues as far as keeping the county above water financially," he added.

Alabama Department of Transportation officials told the bridge group and local officials in 2014 that a "government entity" needed to have ownership of the bridge in order to apply for grants and to gain other funding for perpetual upkeep and maintenance, but foundation officials say that requirement effectively blocked ways to preserve the bridge.

Afterward, local county and city governments were wary of getting involved.

There was no change in support despite the release of a study earlier this year by Troy University professor Anthony Dixon, who estimated a renovated pedestrian bridge could generate $1 million to $3 million a year in revenue and generate 16 to 40 new jobs in the area.

The B.B. Comer Bridge became the target of preservation efforts after it was named to 2013's Top Rated Unique Savable Structures, or TRUSS, list, according to bridgehunter.com. The span over the Tennessee River is the last of 15 memorial bridges built by the Alabama State Bridge Corp. starting in 1927.

"It is with great sorrow that we concede defeat," a recent Comer Bridge Foundation release states. A number of bridge supporters collaborated on the statement. "It's sad to see a piece of history destroyed for lack of positive vision."

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