SCOTTSBORO, AL (USA)- As a general rule, democracy works when the majority of the population favor a project that is for the benefit of the community; even if it means putting it to a vote. The campaign to save the BB Comer Bridge garnered massive amount of support from people within Jackson County, as well as many throughout Alabama and parts of the US. It was hoped that the Jackson County Commissioners would put the issue up to a vote, to assume responsibility over a historic bridge with over 80 years of history.
Sadly, County Officials not only rejected the proposition for a vote or even a referendum, but they rejected calls for any measures involving the cantilever span, once and for all. The notion at the council meeting on 9 November effectively closed the last doors to any opportunity to convert the bridge into a recreational area. The contract was signed yesterday to remove the bridge as soon as the new span opened to traffic next spring.
According to a statement by the BB Comer Foundation released yesterday: “It’s sad to see a piece of history destroyed for lack of positive vision. The hurdles could have been met and crossed if people put their minds to it. Without doing anything to the bridge it would stand for generations. We are just about to throw a 12 million dollar resource in the trash because efforts to figure out absurd ownership requirements from ALDOT did just what they were supposed to do, stop the preservation of this bridge.”
County officials were concerned about the liability it would have to undertake to preserve the bridge, which includes its maintenance. In addition, some officials questioned the credibility of having a third owner take over the bridge, especially with regards to requirements presented earlier by the Alabama DOT. For cost reasons alone as the official reason, they decided that the effort was not worth it, despite the benefits of using the 1930 bridge that was built by the Kansas City Bridge Company.
“Saving your bridge required the establishment of a governmental entity to assume ownership of the bridge,” stated officials at the bridge foundation. “It would have required no funds from the county or city. The Comer Bridge Foundation, in concert with the authority, that we were asking them to form could have carried out fundraising activities and, as a government entity, been eligible for grants and other funding mechanisms. The Bridge could have been used by movie companies for filming at a rate of up to five thousand dollars a day. There are many other revenue producing items that would have been available to the Tourism Authority. We were never able to convince the city or the county, despite all efforts, to create the necessary government entity to work with ALDOT on the rest of the conditions.” Several examples of bridges that became part of a joint cooperation with a private and public sector exist in the United States, including the Sutliff Bridge in Johnson County (Iowa), especially after the bridge was rebuilt in 2012 after sustaining substantial damage in the 2008 flood. This 1896 three-span Parker through truss bridge was one of several examples of historic bridges in Johnson County alone that were saved and reused thanks to efforts by both the private and public sectors. Other examples can be found at FW Kent Park west of Iowa City.
Still, it is unclear how county officials had a change of heart, and how members of the foundation plus other proponents for the preservation of the historic bridge were given the cold shoulder and their pleas were quashed. But apparently the culture of fear factor, combined with behind-the-door politics may have played a key role in sentencing the bridge to death, without any chance to put the proposal up for a vote. A show trial where the defendant is pre-programmed to die is the motto for the bridge.
And with that, time is short; get your photos of the bridge between now and the time the new bridge opens in March- and the historic iconic bridge becomes a memory.
To show solidarity towards the French and Lenabese and the families who were killed in a series of terrorist attacks on 13 November, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, together with sister column The Flensburg Files, will present a special logo to show support in these dark times. These logos will be used for the rest of 2015. While the photo shows the Bridge of Friendship at the German-Danish border in Flensburg, Germany, the lettering represents the colors of the French national flag.