Judge Orders Bridge Talks

BENWOOD – A federal judge ordered mediation in the case involving demolition of the Bellaire Bridge and pointed out that the bridge’s owner has failed to pay more than $60,000 in fines assessed by the court.

During a teleconference Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley told bridge owner Lee Chaklos of Delta Demolition and Benwood leaders to gather at 9:30 a.m. July 16 at his office in Columbus to discuss what Chaklos can do to meet the requirements for a demolition permit in the city. Both parties also must submit their ideas for a possible resolution in writing to the judge by July 10.

On Feb. 11, the court gave bridge owners KDC Investments and Delta Demolition 120 days – until June 20 – to secure the $1 million performance bond needed to obtain the permit. Otherwise, he said, they would face a $1,000-per-day fine. Benwood officials have since reduced the requested bond amount to $500,000 cash, but Chaklos has yet to obtain the bond or receive the required permit – and the deadline has come and gone.

“We still can’t come to terms,” said Benwood Police Chief Frank Longwell. “He needs a performance bond, but he can’t get one. And (Chaklos) hasn’t met the obligations of $61,000 imposed in fines.

“I am very upset the court isn’t imposing any sanctions on him for not paying the fines. The court is not making good on the sanctions, and I was hoping the court would enforce them,” he added. “But I respect the judge’s decision.”

In a filing dated Feb. 27, Marbley gave Chaklos until March 8 to deposit a $5,000 check as sanction for “prior conduct” related to many delays in beginning demolition of the bridge. Failure to pay was to result in an additional $1,000 daily fine beginning March 11.

The $5,000 was received March 12 – a day late, according to a March 12 filing. An additional $1,000 fine for the late payment was ordered to be paid by March 22, with an additional $1,000 fine for each day the fine was unpaid after March 25. A $1,000 payment was received March 29 – four days late, according to the court filings.

A court order on April 1 then directed Chaklos to pay the court an additional fine of $4,000 no later than April 12. Fines of $1,000 a day were to begin on April 15. There are no filings indicating that any more money was paid.

Chaklos acknowledged Tuesday evening that he hadn’t paid all the money owed to the court.

“I have paid several thousands in fines, and there are some fines that haven’t been paid,” he said. “I just didn’t have the money. Could you pay a fine of $1,000 a day?”

Chaklos, though, said he was pleased with the outcome of Tuesday’s teleconference.

“I think it went phenomenally well,” he said. “I just think everybody has to get together under some kind of order and voice their opinions.”

He added he doesn’t know yet what his counsel will propose as a resolution to the Benwood permit issue.

Benwood Mayor Ed Kuca said those representing Benwood during the call included him, Longwell and city enforcer Bob Kish, along with attorneys Eric Gordon and Dan Guida. Chaklos and his attorneys participated, as did representatives of Norfolk Southern Railroad, owners of property on the Bellaire side of the bridge.

Neither Reps. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., nor Scott Rigell, R-Va., participated in the call. Chaklos – a resident of Virginia Beach, Va. – had sought Rigell’s help with the Bellaire Bridge issue, while McKinley discussed the bridge matter with Benwood officials last week.