2015-10-20 / Front Page

Fate Of Eel River Bridge Rests With Clay County Commissioners

by Suzanne Crabb

If the state decides to move what has become a controversial bridge over the Eel River in Bowling Green, it won’t be with the blessing of the National Register. Late last month, the National Register of Historic Places responded to two requests sent in July by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology on behalf of requests from the Indiana Department of Transportation. The first request was to have the bridge also listed on the National Register under Criterion C, which is for the engineering significance of the bridge. Currently, the bridge is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, placed on the register on March 15, 2000 for its importance in the development of Clay County and the history of transportation in the county.

This request was granted to also list the bridge on the Register under Criterion C with the letter stating, “Constructed in 1935, the Indiana State Highway Bridge 46-11-1316 is an important example of its type, period, and method of construction and is a rare surviving example of the work of the major Indiana bridge-building firm, the Vincennes Bridge Company.”

The second request was to keep the bridge listed on the National Register if it is moved to Brown County. The Register, in the letter, denied the request “to approve the proposed move of the bridge” to Brown County. “The historic identity of the bridge for the past eighty years is as a two-span structure and as such it was listed in the National Register. The proposal to dismantle the bridge, separating the two trusses and placing them in two different locations would destroy the historic integrity of the Indiana State Highway Bridge 46- 11-1316 and render it ineligible for the National Register of Historic Places,” the letter stated.

Although the Register has denied the request to keep the bridge listed if it is moved to Brown County, this does not prohibit INDOT from moving the bridge.

“INDOT is following the procedures outlined in the Indiana Historic Bridges Programmatic Agreement (PA). Whether the bridge would maintain its National Register listing if it is moved was a question that the Indiana State Historic Preservation Officer (INSHPO) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) posed while weighing the alternatives for the bridge, thus prompting INDOT’s request to the Keeper of the National Register,” Debbie Calder with INDOT stated. “The Historic Bridges PA does not compel INDOT to preserve the bridge at the existing location if a responsible party does not step forward to assume ownership and future maintenance responsibilities. Clay County is currently reviewing a draft transfer of ownership agreement and considering whether it will take responsibility of the bridge as a rehabilitated pedestrian structure. Ultimately, INDOT, the FHWA and the INSHPO must come to agreement on the preferred alternative.”

In order for the bridge to have any chance of remaining in Clay County, the commissioners must approve a contract with INDOT.

According to commissioner Paul Sinders, the contract presented by INDOT is being reviewed by an outside agency. The Clay Community Parks Association received the contract and has sent it for review by a third party. Sinders stated, “We as commissioners have not sent it to anyone, but it is being reviewed.” At this point, the contract can only be signed by the commissioners, no other organization in the county can sign the contract or take possession at this point.

Even if the commissioners do sign the contract, it does not ensure the bridge will remain in Clay County. INDOT still has the discretion, if decided with FHWA and SHPO, that Brown County is a better alternative. The denial to keep the bridge on the National Register if it is moved, however, could impact this decision.

Commissioner Sinders said he does not have a time estimate of when the contract will come before the board for approval.

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