Bickering on Bridge Bond in Benwood

BENWOOD – City Council refused Tuesday to reduce the performance bond Lee Chaklos must obtain before beginning to demolish the Bellaire Bridge.

Council denied Chaklos’ request to lower the $500,000 performance bond the city is requiring before it will grant Chaklos a permit for work to proceed. The city also is demanding that Chaklos provide proof of liability insurance.

Chaklos and Paul Head, a New York engineering consultant, proposed during council’s Tuesday meeting that members lower the bond amount to $250,000. They said Chaklos cannot find an insurer to grant the bond due to the “controversy” surrounding the bridge.

Chaklos faces a $1,000 daily fine in federal court if he fails to start demolition of the bridge by June 20.

Head suggested council allow some preliminary work to begin on the bridge to make the project more appealing to insurers. He said this could increase the chances of Chaklos securing the performance bond.

“A performance bond of that amount is very hard to get, especially with the project under court order,” Head said after the meeting. “It is putting a stumbling block in the way of getting anything done. Once the job is started, we can get the performance bond.”

Council members met the proposal with visible frustration. Benwood Police Chief Frank Longwell told Chaklos and Head the “clock is ticking” on the project.

“I can barely sit in this seat without jumping out of it,” Longwell said. “We have done everything we have said we are going to do. He’s done nothing he’s said he was going to do.”

By a unanimous vote, council decided to keep the required performance bond at $500,000 following more than an hour of discussion between Chaklos and council members.

After the meeting, Benwood Mayor Edward M. Kuca Jr. said council members are concerned about the logistics of Chaklos’ plan to begin demolition. During the meeting, Chaklos had presented a plan to begin work on the Ohio side of the bridge by removing two toll booths and several I-beams, as well as grinding up asphalt along the length of the bridge.

Kuca said the city would have to close Eighth Street and the entrance to the Industrial Park in order to allow equipment to be transported across the bridge to the Bellaire side to perform work. He said vibrations from the equipment could cause debris to fall onto the city below, posing a safety hazard.

Benwood officials initially wanted bridge owners Chaklos, of Delta Demolition, and his wife, Krystal Chaklos of KDC Investments, to post a $5 million liability bond as a condition for obtaining the permit to demolish the span. Since that time, the city has reduced the requirement to a $500,000 cash bond to ensure completion of the bridge’s demolition.

Council also agreed to the name of a third party – Weirton lawyer Dan Guida – being placed alongside the city’s on the $500,000 escrow account. This move came after the Chakloses expressed concern about the city not returning the bond money after the project was complete.