Questions linger about Jenkins bridge

Wednesday, February 27, 2019
Gary Schad, right, northern commissioner in Barry County, talks to a group of people gathered to discuss the future of the Jenkins bridge. Kyle Troutman/

County residents to fight to keep structure as pedestrian bridge

It was contentious and heated at times at the Clio community building in Jenkins on Feb. 19 as all three members of the Barry County Commission and Principal Engineer Spencer Jones spoke with about 75 people about the future of the historic bridge on Farm Road 1215 between Highways 39 and 248.

The through truss bridge was built in 1909 by the Standard Bridge Company, weighs in at about 25,000 pounds and is 143 feet long and 12.1 feet wide. The last inspection in February found the bridge to be in poor condition with a 16.7 percent sufficiency rating. The inspection recommended replacement because of substandard load-carrying capacity, estimating the cost of work at $579,000.

The meeting on Feb. 19 was set up to discuss the future of the bridge, which Presiding Commissioner Gary Youngblood, Northern Commissioner Gary Schad and Southern Commissioner Wayne Hendrix said they do not wish to tear down. However, the liability of the aging structure puts the county in a tough position, as any injury caused by the bridge would fall under its insurance.

The county hopes to remove the bridge from its inventory, transfer ownership of the bridge with the county held harmless, or possibly remove the bridge and put it at a safer location.

Residents pushed commissioners to keep it intact, with a round of applause following the suggestion to make it a pedestrian bridge and added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Discussions about the location harkened back to the memories people have of the bridge, including barbecues, fireworks, picnics and summer relaxation. One resident said he was thrown off the bridge as a swimming lesson, and Schad even recalled his first kiss was on the historic bridge.

“Our store burned down and our school houses are being lost, so there’s not that many historic landmarks in this area any more,” one resident said. “This is the last big landmark we have and this community wants to keep it.”

The county said it would cost about $70,000 to repair the bridge, but that expenditure would only provide a “five-year bandaid.” To make it passable for vehicles, the county estimated about $500,000 to $600,000 in costs, and dismantling the bridge would cost about $20,000.

“We came here in this slick weather for this meeting to see what you want us to do,” Hendrix said. “We don’t want to tear it down.”

“This bridge is a deeply sentimental structure,” another resident said. “The price does not equate to its history and value, and if we get rid of it, we are trading our history and values for money.”

Schad said he understands the sentiment, especially with his memories at the bridge, but told attendees they were voting with their hearts and instead have to vote with their pocketbooks.

“As long as the bridge is in county ownership, the liability is on us,” he said. “We don’t want to tear it down, and we’d like to get it on the Register of Historic Places, but the county needs out of the liability because the bridge isn’t functional. I see no reason to replace that bridge for $600,000. As a county, we have to be practical with your money, and we can’t go spending money on something like this that’s impractical.

“I know this part of the county is special, but we still have to be practical and represent everyone from the border to Arkansas all the way up to Monett. There are 10-15 other bridges that we need to take care of that get more traffic. If someone wants to buy it, we’ll sell it to you for $1.”

“Or less,” Youngblood added.

Youngblood said about $166,000 is budgeted this year for bridge repairs, money that comes from a portion of the base road tax levies and the balance from MVFI motor vehicle fee increase. The county also received $349,382.25 last year in the Emergency Road and Bridge fund

About 45 minutes into the meeting, one resident asked for a yes or no to the question, “Will the county pay to fix the bridge?” After getting a “no” response from commissioners, one man in the back stood up and said, “Then the decision has already been made,” and left. A few others followed.

However, Tracie Snodgrass, who lives in McDowell, began to turn the tide. She said she had done hours of research and proposed forming a 501c3 non-profit to help get the bridge on the Register and save it from demolition.

“The reason I went to the meeting was because we need to save our heritage like historic bridges and buildings, because they are our windows into the past,” Snodgrass said. “When we destroy them, younger generations only have pictures. I was born and raised in McDowell, and my property borders Little Flat Creek and Big Flat Creek, so I have floated in that area all my life, going fishing and swimming.

“The Jenkins bridge has a lot of meaning because it was a booming town at one time, and the bridge is an essential part of the community. So, if it won’t take much to fix it up, why not?”

Snodgrass said her goal is to help organize a group to create a non-profit and and make the bridge a pedestrian bridge and historical marker.

“It’s not dead yet, but just needs a pick-me-up,” she said. “We as people can do that, and there are a lot of resources out there.”

One resource Snodgrass has tapped is the Historic Bridge Foundation, which said the Jenkins bridge does not necessarily need to be on the Register of Historic Places yet, and forming a non-profit is step No. 1.

“Once we form the non-profit, we can use resources like the Foundation to help get us money, and we can raise money on our own,” Snodgrass said. “Mr. Jones said he is open to helping us find resources, and I hope the County Commission will work with us in a positive manner.”

Snodgrass said the first thing she plans to do is plan a meeting in the community to figure out where to start, then get the report on the Jenkins bridge and get advice from the Foundation on how to move forward.

“The good thing about a non-profit, too, is that any contributions or donations are all tax exempt,” Snodgrass said. “It’a a great way to leave a legacy for the younger generation.”

Snodgrass said asking for donations will be a start, then forming a GoFundMe page and hosting things like fish fry dinners and community events to add up funds needed.

This is also not Snodgrass’ first rodeo when it comes to non-profits and saving historic structures. She is the treasurer and one of nine board members for the McDowell Schoolhouse Foundation, which aims to keep that building standing and keeping the McDowell Jubilee tradition alive.

Youngblood said he’s aware of the group organizing to save the structure, and hopes to work with them.

“We all want to keep it there, but there are other bridges with emergency vehicle traffic, bus traffic and other traffic that we need money to spend on,” he said. “The goal for the meeting was just to gain some interest.”

Youngblood said he could not say if the county would make any contributions to the group that is forming.

“It will take continued maintenance, and the wooden deck needs to be replaced,” he said. “It’s a bridge that will need continual spending and has no vehicular traffic.”

In the end, Youngblood said he thought it was a successful meeting, and another one may be scheduled depending on how the situation progresses.

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