BENWOOD - It's been nearly three months since Benwood officials say they last heard from the owners of the Bellaire Bridge, and they believe the city's best hope for taking down the span now rests with the West Virginia Legislature and public funds from the state.
Mayor Ed Kuca said the deteriorating condition of the bridge - which last saw traffic more than 20 years ago - jeopardizes residents and businesses beneath it, and believes it would be justifiable to use public funds toward its demolition.
"We've asked state officials before, and they said since the bridge is privately owned, you can't use government money to take it down," he said. "But I feel it is a public safety issue, and we use millions elsewhere across the country for public safety."
Photo by Joselyn King
Benwood Police Chief Frank Longwell holds the plan for demolishing the Bellaire Bridge submitted by the Delta Demolition Group and KDC Investments.
But as Congress continues to grapple with burgeoning federal debt and mandated spending cuts, Kuca and Police Chief Frank Longwell believe the money for demolishing the Bellaire Bridge will have to come from Charleston.
"The state of West Virginia is our only hope," Longwell said. "We feel it is in better shape that the federal government."
Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said he has not yet heard from Benwood officials on the Bellaire Bridge matter, but added he would not be inclined to pursue public dollars for the privately owned bridge's demolition. He compared such an act to using taxpayer money "to tear down someone's garage."
Bob Ney as a congressman in 2005 included $1.7 million for the demolition of the Bellaire Bridge in a federal transportation bill. He later withdrew the request from the measure amid criticism of spending public funds to demolish private property, and that the bridge was not in his district.
Kuca and Longwell said the city has consulted with local recycling experts regarding the value of the metal contained within the bridge.
These experts have told them the bridge's owners would "lose millions" if they took down the bridge, as the price they would get for the recycled metal couldn't cover their costs.
Benwood officials initially wanted the bridge's owners - Krystal Chaklos of KDC Investments and husband Lee Chaklos of the Delta Demolition Group - to post a $5 million liability bond as a condition to obtaining the permit to demolish the span. Since that time, the city has reduced this requirement to a $500,000 cash bond to assure completion of the bridge's demolition.
But the Chakloses and their legal counsel objected to the proposal, as only the name of the city of Benwood was on the $500,000 escrow account. The name of a third party - Weirton lawyer Dan Guida - later was added to the agreement late last year, but the city still has not heard back from the bridge's owners since the change.
"The city has backpedaled so far back from its original stance, that we can't go no further," Longwell said. "As far as I'm concerned, we have no partner on the other side. We're negotiating with a ghost.
"We've negotiated deals, but they're not there on their end," he continued.
Jeremy Domozick, attorney for the Chakloses, did not return multiple calls seeking comment.
Longwell and Kuca defended the city's decision to insist on securing at least a $500,000 bond from Delta Demolition before allowing demolition to proceed.
"What happens if the city gives them the building permit - and they don't have the resources or ability to finish?" Longwell said. "We would be responsible, and that could bankrupt the city. We know enough about what could happen, and we need to take precautions."