It appears the Bellaire Toll Bridge won't go down with a bang after all, as the contractor seeking to demolish it said it is unlikely explosives will be used.
But it's also unclear whether he will do the work, since there now is a dispute between demolition firms regarding who actually owns the bridge.
Lee Chaklos of Delta Demolition said Wednesday he is continuing to craft a demolition plan for the bridge despite a challenge from the bridge's former owner, Advanced Explosives Demolition, which claims it still owns the structure.
"The biggest reason for the delay (in starting demolition of the bridge) is that AED is up to no good," Chaklos said. "He (AED Vice President Eric Kelly) has been calling the local police station, informing them that he owns the bridge."
Kelly and AED - stars of the reality television show "The Imploders" - initially purchased the bridge from Bellaire businessman Roger Barack earlier this year for $1.
The firm then reportedly sold the bridge to Krystle Chaklos, also of Delta Demolition, under the name KDC Investments for $25,000. Indications then were that KDC and Delta Demolition would utilize AED to blow up the span.
Chaklos has in his possession an e-mail from Kelly dated June 3 stating the financial transaction between the companies was complete and congratulating KDC on being the new owner of the bridge. But Chaklos said AED's claims of owning the bridge started after July 7, when he informed Kelly "his services wouldn't be needed."
"He was unable to comply with our insurance requirements," Chaklos said of Kelly. "He was trying to fly under the radar. He thought he could go in under our contractor's license. He couldn't. He had to get his own."
Chaklos noted that while he does not yet have his own license for West Virginia, he plans to travel to Charleston soon to take the test to obtain it.
Officials at AED said they could not comment on the matter "due to confidentiality agreements," but they provided a prepared statement from Kelly.
"AED disputes any reference to ownership, monetary cost and future involvement in the Bellaire Bridge demolition," Kelly states, noting his company will present its own plans for demolishing the bridge to Benwood officials and the U.S. Coast Guard.
He termed previous comments from Chaklos - saying AED would not cooperate with Delta Demolition - "inaccurate, unfounded and libelous in reference."
"AED has been working with the previous owner of the bridge and the city of Benwood since 2008 and has extended every professional effort to bring the demolition to fruition," Kelly states. "The delays by Delta Demolition and KDC Investments have been well documented by the city of Benwood, and have no reflection on AED.
"Future statements will be forthcoming from counsel once the contracts for ownership and demolition are processed through the judicial system," he added. "Once again AED would like to thank the citizens of Benwood and the Benwood city officials for their support and professional response."
Benwood Police Chief Frank Longwell said he just hopes the "real owners of the Bellaire Bridge step forward."
Benwood officials must grant a permit to the appropriate contractor before any demolition work can begin. The contractor must submit paperwork including their plan for demolition, bonding, licensing and insurance "that any municipality would request," Longwell said.
He noted that as of Wednesday, neither firm had provided these items to city officials.
"There are questions as to the ownership," Longwell said. "Unlike in real property, there is no deed. Once either side gets what they need, we now have to have our city attorney research to determine who owns the bridge. It's now a civil matter between folks who say they own it.
"We're anxious to get it down, but right now these two guys have made a mess of the whole thing," Longwell continued. "It's sad for them to put false hope on the city. They can't come up with the required documents, then there is a squabble. It's embarrassing to be involved with project."
Chaklos said Delta Demolition and KDC are sorry the Benwood Police Department was put in the middle of the squabble.
"This issue will be addressed by our attorneys," he continued. "This should be negotiated and put to rest by the end of the month."
Chaklos provided some details of his plans for the bridge, noting he is not "going to be pushed into submitting a plan" to Benwood officials until he is certain his plan is sound and safe.
"An explosion may not happen," he said. "We feel that blasting the bridge is not the best way to demolish the bridge. We anticipate we will instead use a dismantling procedure."
He cited concerns regarding a natural gas line beneath the bridge, the protection of the people and property near the bridge, and the presence of zebra mussels in the area as reasons why an explosion shouldn't take place.
He has approved bids from seven contractors wanting to do work on the bridge and noted six of them are local. He would not yet provide names of the subcontractors, but said he would likely hire 50 "from local union halls" to work on the project.
Chaklos hopes to start work next month but isn't setting a date for completion.
"We are mandated to have it done by June 1, 2011," he said, citing requirements put in place by the Coast Guard. "When all is said and done, we will have 100 people working on the bridge. All should have a good Christmas."