With all the stories of thieves taking apart metal bridges for the price of metal, which includes stealing and dismantling a 50-foot long bridge in Pennsylvania, driving off with another short span in Turkey and the most recent story- stealing 90 meters of railing from a pedestrian bridge in Wales, one would think that stealing and selling this commodity at one’s expense would be the dumbest act ever, right?
Well, not yet. How about selling bridge parts on eBay without the consent of the demolition contractor? This debate was recently added to a pile of other debates on the future of an Ohio River bridge, closed since 1991 but despite signing off on the demolition in 2002, has been put on indefinite hold since then. The Bellaire Bridge is one of the oldest cantilever truss bridges still standing along the Ohio River. Built in 1926 by the Mount Vernon Bridge Company in Ohio with J.E. Greiner from Chicago overseeing the construction of this rather ornamental bridge, this bridge connected Bellaire on the Ohio side and Benwood on the West Virginia side for 65 years until its closure on orders by the Ohio DOT as part of the plans to demolish the Ohio ramp to allow the right of way for the Ohio Hwy. 7 expressway to be constructed. Since then, talks have gone from trying to reopen the bridge to now demolishing the bridge, considering it a total eyesore and a liability to both communities. Yet no one has really come forward with the money to get the job done. And given the historic value of the bridge and its aesthetic value, preservationists have stepped forward with alternatives towards demolishing the bridge because of its listing on the National Register of Historic Places, especially in the face of opposition.
The bridge is now under ownership of Lee Chaklos and KDC Investments, which signed off an agreement in 2010 with previous owner Roger Barack, who had advocated the reopening of the bridge despite opposition from the two communities, Ohio DOT and the US Coast Guard. Yet Chaklos has two major issues to contend: 1. He has to come up with proof of liability insurance and a $500,000 performance bond to execute the plan and 2. He has to deal with the Benwood City Council and its debate over the escrow funding set aside for the project. Yet with the parts of the soon-to-be-demolished bridge being on sale through eBay, he has another issue on his plate, namely who was responsible for this act, for he was unaware of this when asked by the Wheeling Intelligencer.
It seems that Chaklos and company are either clueless or lack the funding needed to get the job done and such action from an unknown source is another sign of desperation to get rid of the bridge once and for all. Already concerns of falling debris from the West Virginia approach has irked many residents and the US Coast Guard has issued an ultimatum, ordering Chaklos and company to finally start the demolition process by 20 June or face a daily delay fine of $1000. Even residents are shooing photographers and pontists away from the bridge with shotguns, as experienced in a visit in August 2010.
Chaklos and company are scheduled to bring up the matter with the Benwood City Council, during a meeting on 23 April and come to an agreement to the issues involving the project. Yet given the circumstances involved affecting all parties involved, both cities, the Ohio DOT, US Coast Guard, and CSX Railways, which travels underneath the bridge, it would not be surprising if they in the end sell their assets to another party. This may serve as a sign of hope for preservationists and people attached to the bridge, for through extensive rehabilitation, which includes new decking, lighting and railing, combined with new steel parts and new paint job, the bridge may be converted from the most hated ugly hunk of metal to a piece of artwork connecting Benwood and Bellaire. But as we saw with the demise of the Ft. Steuben and Bridgeport Bridges, this may be wishful thinking and the best solution is to sit and watch how the situation pans out in the next 8 weeks.
And as for the party responsible for putting the bridge on eBay: Congratulations! You may receive one of the 2013 Smith Awards for the most absurd action done to a historic bridge. While stealing metal parts from a bridge is just not cool for it can cause a life if the structure collapses, putting bridge parts on eBay without consent of the bridge owner to encourage people to buy the metal, despite its high price value is simply something you can never get away with and can spell doom if it backfires. Hope you have a good lawyer to fend off any potential lawsuits for falsifying information out of desperation, or your deed will be more than costly….