County board designates J.A.R. swing bridge removal as emergency projectWashington County officials said they do not want to waste any time in completely removing the J.A.R. swing bridge that partially collapsed last month.
By: Hank Long, Woodbury Bulletin
County board designates J.A.R. swing bridge removal as emergency project
Commissioners express frustration with National Parks Service’s desire to delay project for study
By Hank Long
Washington County officials said they do not want to waste any time in completely removing the J.A.R. swing bridge that partially collapsed last month.
For that reason the county board voted 5-0 Tuesday to designate the removal process as an emergency project, which will give the county access to state disaster aid to fund the estimated $5.5 million costs associated with removing all three sections of the structure by August 2009.
The more than 100-year-old bridge that spans the Mississippi River from St. Paul Park to Inver Grove Heights was closed to due to safety concerns in 1997, but remained intact until a 50-foot portion on the eastern side in St. Paul Park collapsed Nov. 21.
Since the collapse Washington and Dakota county officials have been working with a list of government entities to move forward with a complete removal of all three sections of the bridge, but have received some resistance from the National Parks Service that could delay the removal process for up to a year or more.
The county plans to go ahead with its timeline for removal of the actual swing bridge portion and the Washington County side of the bridge as early as January, while the Mississippi River channel is shutdown for the season to barge traffic.
But the National Parks Service, which has some jurisdiction over the Mississippi River, has expressed interest in performing a study to determine what, if any, historic impact that removal of the bridge would have on the river, which is part of the national parks system.
In addition, the state Department of Natural Resources has informed the county that it would like any removal of the bridge to include the relocation of several swallows nests and endangered mussels species that habitat in and around the bridge.
A public safety issue
Washington County deputy public works director Wayne Sandberg told commissioners during the Dec. 23 county board meeting that the National Coast Guard has said it is the lead federal agency on the issue and said that a National Parks Service study is not necessary. But Sandberg did acknowledge that if the National Parks Service were able to pursue a court-ordered injunction on the bridge removal, that could delay the project further and jeopardize the state aid disaster funding for the project.
Commissioners expressed frustration with the National Parks Service’s expressed desire to perform a study that could slow the removal and take precedent over a public safety issue.
“Less than two months ago we had people walking this bridge,” said commissioner Myra Peterson, who represents St. Paul Park in south Washington County. “This section could have fallen down at that time. I wonder where we would have had the national park service if we were pulling bodies out of the river.”
Commissioner Dennis Hegberg said that the National Parks Service’s expressed desire to delay the removal was “another example of impediment on society for ‘the group that watches over the river.’ We have to take care of this public safety issue.”
Earlier this year Dakota County officials expressed interest in seeking a way to preserve and reuse its section of the bridge for historical purposes, but changed its stance upon the completion of a reuse feasibility analysis and the partial collapse last month.
Dakota County is expected to officially enter into a joint powers agreement with Washington County after the New Year, and the counties will then seek bids for removal before the end of January, Sandberg said.