A petition signed by 44 residents opposed to an iron bridge replacement project found its way in front of the Putnam County Commissioners Monday evening.
But even before representatives of those residents issued their statement to Commissioners Gene Beck and Dennis O'Hair, the project had been pulled from the county's future project list.
Engineer Steve Luther received approval from Beck and O'Hair to ask state highway officials to swap the Bridge 45 project in Jackson Township with the Bridge 10 replacement project. The costs are about the same, Luther said, and the property owners next to Bridge 10 want something done with that structure. Bridge 10 is located in Russell Township on CR 1050 North east of CR 600 West spanning Big Raccoon Creek.
"I know you have some public sentiment against Bridge 45," Luther said.
Beck and O'Hair directed Luther to draft a letter to the state asking to switch the projects. (Commissioner Kristina Warren was unable to attend Monday's bimonthly session.)
The issue resurfaced later in the meeting, however, when Rebecca Hull presented a petition that asks for a refurbishment of Bridge 45 on the Putnam-Hendricks County Line.
Hull said the residents along CR 900 East want the iron bridge spanning Big Walnut Creek to remain in place and receive a quality restoration. Reading from a two and one-half page statement, she said the environmental impact of the project would disturb habitat for a pair of nesting bald eagles, the endangered Indiana brown bat and stands of wild hemlock.
Drawing a comparison to the Reelsville Bridge 159 replacement project which saw a modern bridge installed as a bypass to a crumbling concrete structure, Hull said the current iron bridge fits with the surroundings, while a new larger bridge would not.
Safety is not an issue, she said, since the bridge area has not had any accidents for more than 10 years. The road has only 20 houses on it, and the average daily traffic count is less than 100 vehicles.
Despite that low usage, however, O'Hair warned the residents that they should be looking to the future rather than trying to preserve an isolated lifestyle.
"I'm sorry you want to live like you did in the 1920s and '30s," O'Hair said as he chastised the residents for not wanting the area to change. "We've got to grow this county properly."
Beck said the main reason for replacing the iron bridge, which was built in 1915 and most recently repaired in 1980, is to widen it to accommodate farm machinery.
O'Hair also pointed out that emergency vehicles cannot cross the bridge at its current load rating of 12 tons, or even if the bridge is refurbished to a 15-ton limit.
After continued arguments from the residents, O'Hair pointed out that the issue is moot since the project is no longer on the active list, and the funding could be transferred to Bridge 10.
Meanwhile, Beck and O'Hair also discussed a proposed project to bypass the Dunbar Covered Bridge north of Greencastle.
The project needs to be done, not only to preserve the historic structure from the heavy traffic count that crosses it daily, but also to provide a structure that can carry emergency vehicles to residents on the north side of Big Walnut Creek.
The area needs to be opened up for public safety, O'Hair said. The flooding problem also needs to be addressed. When the creek overflows its banks, the area is cut off by flooding along the road and through the farmland to the south of the bridge.
As part of the project, engineering plans must accommodate a 100-year flood. That means an additional structure is likely to be constructed in the middle of the farmland south of the covered bridge.
"Where a lot of people will be upset," Beck said, "is that there will be a 200-foot bridge setting out there in the field without there being any water going under it unless it floods."
The commissioners directed engineer Luther of Beam Longest and Neff to continue discussing the Dunbar project with state highway officials.
They also said they want to keep the replacement projects going for the iron Houck and Crowe's bridges northeast of Greencastle.
Luther said he plans to talk to the state about additional funding for those replacement projects.
And while he's at it, Luther estimated it will take about $15,000 to complete the design for the restoration of the original Bridge 159 at Reelsville. The commissioners agreed to allow the design to be completed so they can seek bids, getting an estimate on how much that project will cost.
In other business, the commissioners:
---- Heard from Joy Marley about the National Road Heritage Trail, an effort to create a multi-use recreational trail from Richmond to Terre Haute. It is for hikers, bikers and a large portion of the trail would accommodate equestrian riders. The corridor has been studied by the state, which has presented a proposal. Each of the eight counties involved has a guide put together on development of the trail. There will be a period of public comment allowed when the time comes to develop the trail.
---- Appointed Lea Smith, Sue Bock and Rachelle Harcourt to serve on the West Central Solid Waste District board of directors.
---- Approved the annual dust control program on county roads, with the county's costs not to exceed $15,000. Residents have until June 15 to order the work. The commissioners noted, however, that the dust control is not guaranteed and will not be redone if a resident is not satisfied. For more information, contact the county highway department at 653-4714.
---- Granted approval of a rezoning from A2 Agriculture to CG Commercial General for property owner Robert Moran to operate a new and used car dealership on U.S. 36 east of Groveland. The request was approved by the county plan commission in April.
---- Approved a resolution for the two-lot Vermillion Creek Subdivision in Cloverdale Township.
---- Approved the vacation of an abandoned road in Russell Township at CR 950 North and CR 625 West.
---- Heard that some tuckpointing has been completed on two exterior sides of the courthouse, and two other sides remain to be completed.
---- Addressed a question about a swimming ordinance for Glenn Flint Lake to prohibit swimming in an unsafe area. The commissioners said the conservancy district or property owners must post the area for no trespassing, because it is private property. Once trespassing is prohibited, the sheriff's department can enforce the law.
---- Heard from county health officer Dr. Robert Heavin that county officials need to be aware of the possibility of a flu pandemic and what should be done in case of an outbreak. Heavin said the possibility is real, and in case it occurs, the county will be on its own in dealing with the situation. No help will come from federal or state health agencies beyond basic guidance.
The commissioners regularly meet on the first and third Mondays of each month at 6 p.m. in the courthouse annex. The meetings are open to the public.