U.S. District Judge Reopens Talks on Bellaire Bridge

District judge wants something done with decrepit Bellaire span

Photo by Joselyn King Benwood Police Chief Frank Longwell, left, and Mayor Ed Kuca inspect the entrance to the Bellaire Bridge on Thursday.

BENWOOD — More than 27 years since the last vehicle crossed the Bellaire Bridge — and after ownership changes, lawsuits, controversies involving elected officials, and several instances of falling debris — a federal judge is resuming talks which may finally result in its removal.

Benwood Police Chief Frank Longwell said Thursday he believes the city has the authority to condemn the bridge and take over its liability. He said city leaders would likely do this, as long as they can recover the financial costs associated with removing the bridge.

It had been more than two years since there was any discussion about the bridge, but U.S. District Court Judge Algenon L. Marbley suddenly called a meeting in his courtroom on Feb. 22 to discuss how best to take down the bridge, Longwell said. Longwell was invited to the meeting, as were representatives of the of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, the Ohio Department of Transportation, the West Virginia Division of Highways, the U.S. Coast Guard and Norfolk Southern Railway.

Not present was owner Lee Chaklos, who filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2014.

According to Longwell, the U.S. Coast Guard may be willing to allow the bridge’s pillars to remain standing in the Ohio River — and allow these to used as docking areas for barges. Current industrial activity on both the Benwood and Bellaire sides of the river has made for congestion in the area, and resulted in a need for more docking areas.

This would cut as much as $1 million from the cost of demolishing the bridge, according to Longwell. The price had been estimated at about $3 million.

As much as $2 million in liens presently against the bridge could be excused if the city of Benwood steps forward.

The three liens against the bridge collectively total $2,126,400, and include obligations to DAC Audit Services of Clarkston, Mich. of $800,000; RFK Enterprises of New Castle, Pa. for $1,206,400; and Scrap Dynamics Corp. of Aurora, Ohio, for $100,000.

“We felt we could get the liens waived off the bridge if the city would condemn the bridge,” Longwell said. “But by condemning the bridge, that means we would take liability for the bridge — and that’s something we wouldn’t want to do unless there is a plan in place where we would be successful in removing the bridge.”

Benwood could significantly cut the cost of demolition by recycling the metal and concrete contained within the span, he said.

The price of metal “has gone up quite a bit” in recent years, and a local recycler who has done similar work could likely be willing to take on the work of salvaging the 5,200 tons of metal in the bridge, he said. The Bellaire Bridge is actually constructed of a higher grade metal that is in demand, according to Longwell.

“And the concrete decking — we believe we could have that recycled nearby,” he said. “That would be a huge cost-cutting measure if we could recycle the decking.”

Marbley has ordered that a plan and cost for dismantling be created, and he promised to look for federal resources to help pay for the demolition, Longwell said.

“At some point, he is going to call us all back to his courtroom to crunch some numbers,” Longwell said.

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