The Waverly City Council formally voted on Monday to start the process to remove a century-old bridge that has been closed to public access for more than five years.
With a 5-1 vote, with At-Large Councilwoman Ann Rathe voting no and Ward 2 Councilman Kris Glaser absent, the process was put in place to take down the Third Street Southeast Bridge. They then approved unanimously a professional services agreement with WHKS & Co. of Mason City to provide an engineering plan for the process for a not-to-exceed amount of $67,600.
The question over what to do with the bridge, which was ordered closed by WHKS’ Casey Faber, who is the city’s designated bridge inspector, following an unfavorable inspection in February 2015. The bridge, built in 1917, was found to have severe structural deterioration in both the steel on the bridge itself as well as the concrete piers.
The council had come to an informal consensus during its June 22 study session to move forward with removal, and City Administrator James Bronner said the vote on Monday was to formalize it.
“There never had been an actual vote to remove the bridge taken,” Bronner said. “If the vote is to not remove it at this time, then we would sit idle, and the council would have to have another discussion as to how do we proceed forward in a different direction at that point in time.”
Ward 3 Councilman Rod Drenkow pointed out there was no paperwork included with the vote to remove the bridge, which he said was unusual. Most of the time, resolutions and ordinances would have a memo in the council’s packet for each meeting, which would spell out city policy, why the action needed to be taken and what would happen if the motion was denied.
Bronner said much of the background was covered during the study session, so the documentation was not needed. He added that the later vote to enter into the contract with WHKS to do the engineering was dependent on the one to remove the span.
Ward 5 Councilman Tim Kangas pointed out that even if the council does approve the measure to “get the ball rolling” on removal, the council could always stop it at any time with a later vote. Ward 1 Councilman Brian Birgen added that it was a “test vote” to see if there was a majority willing to move ahead.
Mayor Adam Hoffman reminded the council that after approving the removal of the bridge, there would be “quite a lengthy process” with engineering the removal.
“It involves the (Iowa Department of Natural Resources), a lot of regulatory stuff to get us to the point to actually get to do something with the removal,” Hoffman said.
Bronner added that the Army Corps of Engineers and hazard mitigation authorities also need to weigh in during the eight- to nine-month process.
“This is pulling the lynch pin to get this moving, I guess,” he said.
Rathe said she had a hard time supporting the measure to remove the bridge without having a plan in place to put in a replacement. She referred to a $1 million grant that the Iowa Department of Transportation had continually offered the city over the years to go toward a DOT-standardized two-lane vehicular bridge to replace the Green Bridge.
The council denied a resolution to formally accept the grant, 4-3, during the May 18 meeting. Rathe joined Birgen and Drenkow to vote for approval, while Kangas, Glaser, Ward 4 Councilwoman Heather Beaufore and At-Large Councilman Matt Schneider voted it down.
Rathe also wanted to know what the future plans are for a span over the Cedar River at that location.
“I would feel more comfortable, I think, demolishing the bridge or paying for it to be demolished if we knew where we were headed after this,” she said. “I do want to have some sort of resolution to this, but I’m not sure this gets us to a point of resolution.
“I do think we need some sort of bridge there, and having been through whiplash through this project over the last however many years, we could go back and forth a few more times, which I don’t think is in the city’s best interest.”
She told the council that she’s fielded calls from constituents in town that want a vehicle bridge there. She added that she doesn’t want to vote for the removal “in a vacuum” and without a plan.
Beaufore believed that the million-dollar grant had been holding the council back “for a very long time” and contributed to the debate on the type of bridge that would replace the Green Bridge, if any.
“I feel like this is going to help us move forward,” Beaufore said. “I feel most of the council members are all for some type of a passage between this, and I feel if we don’t do something and move forward, we’re not gonna (do anything).”
Schneider thought that removing the bridge will create a desire to get it replaced.
“There are flood mitigation benefits (to removal), but we cannot continue to let that bridge sit there and neglect on the neighborhood,” Schneider said.
When the council took up the WHKS contract, Kangas noted that the company has been the city’s bridge inspector for years, so it was logical to let them do the engineering rather than put it out for bid.
Bronner agreed that WHKS knows Waverly’s bridges inside and out.
“I guess we can give them the satisfaction of finishing a project up on this one, they should be the firm to do that,” he said to knowing chuckles from several council members. “It’s kind of a marathon for them, too. It’s only fitting that they get to be the final — possibly final — firm to get something accomplished completely.”
Dreknow asked if WHKS would have a breakout for the possibility to preserve part of the span for display in Brookwood Park nearby. Bronner said the engineering is only going to cover demolition.
“There did not seem like there was a consensus to move a bridge span into the park,” Bronner said. “That may have to be another discussion as this engineering moves on.
“Regardless of what that is, they can pick it up and set it somewhere to be dismantled or set it somewhere else, but that was really not a consensus either. It was really all over the board. We didn’t get a good feel of what that was going to be other than the demolition, which is what this is for.”