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Historic crossing saved – for now
By Tom Smith - TNValleyNow.com
Lauderdale County Commission chairman Dewey Mitchell speaks as the commission discusses the demolition of the Ghost bridge which has been closed for years on county road 282.

FLORENCE — Jackson Ford Bridge, better known as Ghost Bridge, will not be coming down until at least 2013.

After much discussion at Monday’s Lauderdale County Commission meeting, commissioners tabled approving a contract that would have immediately started demolition.

The bridge, built in 1912 according to local historians, crosses Cypress Creek. It has been closed since 1996 because of its structural condition and its liability to the county.

“We have tried to do all we can to keep people off the bridge and even out of that area,” Lauderdale County Engineer Ken Allamel said. “We have put up barricades, guardrails and even piles of dirt, and individuals keep tearing it out and removing the barricades.”

A group wanting to save the bridge, citing historical value, is developing plans for the bridge and asked the commission to give them time to explore the possibility of becoming a nonprofit organization to take ownership of the bridge, which is on Lauderdale 282.

Lena Hale, who said her family has owned property along the road to the bridge since 1937, asked the commission to use the money they were going to spend to tear it down to repair it.

“I say repair the bridge instead of tearing it down,” Hale said. “We need more time to see what can be done before it’s torn down. I believe you all are rushing this. We need more time to see what can be worked out.”

Chuck Burgess, a Florence resident, said after the meeting that he was concerned with the extent of ecological harm to plant and aquatic life that could result from the destruction of the bridge.

“What impact will toxins released from the paint and metal have on the environment?” Burgess asked.

Evan Tidwell said his group is looking at the possibility of making a park with a canoe launch and lighted parking area near the bridge.

Tidwell said he has talked with a property owner willing to give the group about an acre of land for the park and the parking lot.

“This is a big project you are talking about. Do you know how much it would cost to redo (the bridge)?” Commissioner Fay Parker asked.

Tidwell said he has been talking with individuals about the cost of inspecting the bridge but does not have an estimate.

Commissioner Larry Irons asked to table any action on the demolition until the county can make sure there are no restrictions from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management or the U.S. Corps of Engineers.

“I want to make sure ADEM and the Corps of Engineers sign off on this before we start tearing it down,” Irons said. “If someone wants to take over ownership and the liability, I don’t have a problem with it.”

Parker said something needs to be done quickly, one way or the other.

“I’m for giving the group a little more time, but I don’t think this needs to drag out for a long time because of the condition of the bridge and the liability issue it presents.”

Commissioners agreed to give the group 30 days to explore options for saving the bridge.

Another issue discussed at length was the role Killen-Center Star Ambulance Service would have with the proposed new county emergency medical service bids.

Commissioners discussed last week to once again seek a joint ambulance bid with the city of Florence for the entire county. Killen would have the option of being a part of the bid or could bid for service for its township.

If the entire county is included in the commission’s bid, it could eliminate the Killen-Center Star Ambulance Service.

The commission heard from supporters of the service for nearly two hours.

No action was taken on the issue.

Tom Smith can be reached at 256-740-5757 or tom.smith@TimesDaily.com.

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