Commission requests more details for bridge project

Published 12:09 am Friday, December 20, 2013

Submitted photo / The Natchez Democrat —  Computer-drawn renderings created by Watkins Acy Strunk Design Inc. in Clinton detail the Bridge of Sighs project. The renderings were shown Wednesday evening when the preservation commission delayed approval of the project.

Submitted photo / The Natchez Democrat — Computer-drawn renderings created by Watkins Acy Strunk Design Inc. in Clinton detail the Bridge of Sighs project. The renderings were shown Wednesday evening when the preservation commission delayed approval of the project.

NATCHEZ — Although the preservation commission delayed approval for the Bridge of Sighs project again Wednesday, the commission and city officials said they feel progress has been made toward starting the project.

The preservation commission asked City Engineer David Gardner last month for more detailed plans of the historic replication of a pedestrian bridge that crossed Roth Hill Road.

Gardner and landscape architect Jared Acy of Watkins Acy Strunk Design Inc. in Clinton presented computer-drawn renderings detailing the bridge’s placement on the bluff, but the commission concluded it needed more details before it could approve the application.

“The devil is in the details,” Commissioner Liz Dantone said.

Commissioners voiced concerns about the largeness of the bridge trusses, visibility of handrails and other issues.

Gardner has contended since the project involves using a prefabricated bridge, meaning it will be built off-site by a manufacturer and assembled on location, complete details of the bridge’s design are not available.

Commission chairwoman Marty Seibert suggested the commission task two or three members with working with Gardner and the bridge manufacturer during the early phases of design to iron out details, which Gardner said could be done within reason.

Acy said he could offer more design suggestions that may appease the commissioners’ concerns and bring them to the commission’s next meeting.

Gardner wanted to ensure the project was moving forward and not backward, to which the commissioners responded they felt better about the bridge design and were definitely moving forward.

Mayor Butch Brown, who spoke on behalf of the city project, said the commissioners needed to be aware funding for the project is in jeopardy. The city is past its deadline to begin the project, which could be canceled by the project’s funding agencies.

“The real issue here is this money,” Brown said. “We’re on borrowed time. By the grace of God and good friends, we’ve been able to keep this project alive.

“I can tell you right now, as soon as people come back to work after the first of the year, this project is in serious jeopardy.”

The project has received two $100,000 grants, one from the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and the second from the Federal Highway Administration. Both grants are being administered by the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

Brown mentioned examples of Gulf Coast bridges that were rebuilt shortly after Hurricane Katrina destroyed them during his tenure at MDOT. Brown said because the bridges needed to be built quickly, some of the design was done during construction, a practice that could be applied to the Bridge of Sighs project.

Commissioner Valencia Hall said, however, it is important the commission stick to its responsibility.

“I respect your opinion, but this is not the Gulf Coast, this is the Mississippi bluff, our bluff,” Hall said. “And we want to preserve the integrity of preservation.”

The commissioners thanked Gardner and Acy for their work on the renderings, which they said were helpful, and voted to take up the application at its Jan. 8 meeting.