Save Bunker Mill Bridge Article

Sep. 13, 2013

Article Written By Dan Ehl

Published: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 

Is there enough support from the community to save the 125-year-old Bunker Mill Bridge? That is the question that was to have been answered Tuesday (after the Kalona News printing deadline) during a public meeting lead by Kalona City Administrator Ryan Schlabaugh. The historic bridge was damaged last month by suspected arson.

Watching the meeting will be members of the Washington County Board of Supervisors, who view the structure as a public danger and will be moving to demolish the bridge if it appears a reasonable alternative is not quickly found.

County Engineer Jacob Thorius has said an engineer’s structural inspection could cost between $10,000 and $15,000, which so far neither the city nor county seems willing to pay. The city’s interest in the bridge, which lies outside city limits, is the part the structure was to have played as an English River crossing for a planned hiking/bicycle trail to Richmond.

There is no interest on the part of the county. Thorius has stressed numerous times that there is no money in secondary road funds for hiking trails. The Washington County Conservation Department, which has almost all of its trails and parks in the southern half of the county, has also shown zero interest.

Julie Bowers with the North Skunk River Greenbelt Associations’ Workin’ Bridges visited the bridge last week. Her nonprofit group works to save historic truss bridges such as the one south of Kalona. A video of one of their restoration projects, the McIntyre Bowstring and Piano Bridge, can be viewed on YouTube.

Bowers said Workin’ Bridges have links with steel and bridge experts who could evaluate the structural integrity of the bridge for approximately $3,000. She noted that many Iowa engineers are unfamiliar with the old iron bridges.

Her group can also take ownership of historic bridge structures that are slated for removal and renovate them through purchase and lease agreements. Funds are then raised for repairs through grant applications and donations. Schlabaugh has asked Washington County Attorney Larry Brock to review such past agreements provided by Workin’ Bridges.

The planned section of the trail near the bridge and south of the English River is facing a holdup due to several property owners that have so far chosen not to sign easements for the trail – the largest property owner being Marilyn Farms. Schlabaugh said he had a recent “positive” meeting with the landowners and the “door is open for negotiations.”

A question to be addressed at the meeting will be – are area residents willing to support restoration of the Bunker Mill Bridge even if for the foreseeable future gravel roads will have to be used for hiking/biking to Richmond?

Coverage of the public meeting will be on the Kalona News’ website Wednesday.

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    Save Bunker Mill Bridge Article - Julie Bowers with the North Skunk River Greenbelt Associations’ Workin’ Bridges