Beaver residents ecstatic over AHD bridge decision

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

BEAVER -- For the most part, locals breathed a sign of relief after the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department's (AHTD) announced it had decided on the "do nothing" option of replacing the Beaver Bridge and two others on Ark. Hwy. 187.

In a press release issued late Monday, AHTD Director Dan Flowers stated the department will continue to maintain the Beaver Bridge, the Leatherwood Creek and Butler Creek bridges and not replace any of them at this time, although they will do much-needed structural repairs to the Leatherwood bridge.

The department will still present its environmental assessment study for the bridge project at a public meeting April 6 at 6 p.m. at the Beaver Community Center, however.

Lynn Malbrough, director of AHTD's Environmental Division, said the decision took many factors into account.

"We did the environmental assessment and looked at all the costs," he said. "We went back and looked at the traffic counts. We felt like the costs were going to outweigh the benefits.

"We also heard loud and clear that people felt it wasn't necessary."

Replacement of the Beaver Bridge alone could have cost the state and federal government from $9 to 17 million, depending on which of six approaches were chosen.

"I'm extremely excited," said Beaver Mayor Chad Hipps, "happy as I can be. I think the majority of the people got what they wanted, including myself."

Hipps was instrumental in talking with local and state officials to get the highway department to "do nothing."

"I've always believed if we kept our heads about us, we could work this out," he said. "I'm just sorry it took so long. And I'm happy nobody has to lose their home or property. Although it wouldn't have affected my property, I felt for the people in and outside of Beaver whose property might have been affected."

Beaver rural area resident Duane Kepford, who, with his wife, Beverly, have fought to preserve a heronry in one of the areas affected, was also pleased.

"I think for the environment of the area, it's fantastic," Duane said. "I think they made the right decision."

Quorum Court JP Harley Barnum, who brought the "do nothing" resolution to the court and got it passed, said, "I'm happy. I'm glad for everyone involved. I think a lot was involved in the decision, and a lot of people were against it. But I think they (AHTD) decided it wasn't a good use of taxpayer money."

Carroll County Judge Eulys K. Smith was cautious in his response.

"That will make some people happy and will disappoint others," he said. "There's never a black and white; there's always a gray issue. I can see both sides."

He said he could understanding people wanting to keep the Beaver Bridge and people in Elk Ranch wanting to keep historic property.

"I also understand the people wanting a better highway and a shortcut to Rogers," he said, "but I have no personal opinion about which is the right answer because I really don't know."

Beaver area resident Buz Peine has argued at Beaver council meetings in the past that the highway department would probably replace the bridge regardless of opposition at that locals should try to "have a bridge they want rather than one they don't want."

"I just hope that nothing happens to the old bridge where we're without a bridge for a long time," he said. "Then we'd have to get in line and start all over again."

To delay that day by preserving the Beaver Bridge for as long as possible, Malbrough was asked whether speed limits and weight restrictions on the bridge could be enforced with speed bumps and overhead bars to prohibit 18-wheel semi-trailer tractors from crossing.

"That could be an option," he said, "but what we have now is load limits, and we will maintain it at those load limits."

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