Plans change for 7th Street Bridge

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Official: ‘We’re getting pulled in different directions’

Plans for the 7th Street Bridge in Cassville, which adjoins the city park to the downtown area, are changing.

In January 2016, the city made plans to first repair the well-traveled, low-water bridge, due to damage from a severe July 2015 flood.

The city had to wait months on funding from FEMA to start repairs, but in the interim, the bridge was slammed again with two atypical December floods, rendering it unstable. With so many school buses and residents traveling over the bridge, the city saw fit to demolish it ahead of schedule to avoid risks to residents.

Later, the city received the FEMA disaster funds, and selected a contractor to construct a new bridge, but that plan changed for a couple of different reasons.

For one, the city hired HDR, Inc. Engineering to complete a hydraulic study of local waterways. The computerized dynamic program models the elevations and water flow of the creek, which provides valuable insight on the impact various flooding situations, bridge structures, culverts and basins along the creek could have on the city. Long-term, the study will help determine how the city can create the most efficient water flow through Cassville to help prevent flooding.

Part of that piece will be helping to solve the ongoing gravel buildup problem in the creek, too.

“Another benefit we expect to get out of the study where it will be most beneficial is clearing out that channel,” said David Brock, public works director for the city. “It tells you where to get the most bang for your buck.”

The tool’s ability to potentially predict, and thereby hopefully avoid, flooding to begin with could save the city and its residents untold thousands, as well as grief.

“We’re not in a position to make a decision [on the bridge] until they’ve got the study completed,” Brock said. “It makes sense to get the water study done and have that knowledge to see how the bridge size impacts the water during flood conditions, which includes not just Flat Creek, but all the tributaries, then balance the funding we have. We’ve got the initial compensation from FEMA for the damages in the 2015 disaster claim, and it’s [now] a good discussion about what to put back in there.”

This leads to the second reason the original plan has changed.

According to Brock, two government agencies are giving the city conflicting information on how the bridge should be replaced.

“We’re getting pulled in different directions,” he said. “The two sides of the issue are, to put the bridge back as it was, which as a low-water bridge, does obstruct the flow of water, or, to put it back as something larger — those are essentially the choices.

“The Army Corps of Engineers is focused on aquatic life and not restricting their movement, so they want to see a larger [bridge] section,” said Steve Walensky, city administrator. “But our FEMA claim says they want the bridge put back the way it was. So we’ll have to jump through some hoops to make these regulatory agencies happy.

“My goal is to bring the two together, then apply for additional funding, and present to the Corps of Engineers, which we believe has the Trump card in the issue. The [bottom line is], the more we can take out of the creek to increase flow, that’s where we’re at.”

Walensky and Brock will collaborate on funding, if more is needed.

“There are grants available,” Brock said. “We’ve identified one overseen by the Department of Economic Development, community block grant that is specifically for disaster mitigation. One of the categories is for making improvements to infrastructure that failed during a flood. We expect we will submit an application for that program in February.”

Residents may access the city park from Highway 248 or Mineral Springs Road, and Brock said he thanks the community for their patience while the city works to complete the bridge project.

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