Stone Bridge meeting brings all voices to the table

Board of Supervisors
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Several groups came together last week during the March 28 Board of Supervisors meeting to discuss the future of Ely’s Stone Bridge near Monticello.

     The local historic structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and was built in 1893.

     Those present included the Jones County Supervisors; Rose Rohr, Jones County Historic Preservation Commission chair; Steve Intlekofer, Ely Stone Bridge Society of Jones County; Katie Farrowe, Friends of Stone Bridge; Brad Mormann, Conservation director; Derek Snead, county engineer; and Amy Rens, engineer with the University of Colorado-Denver.

     The purpose of the meeting, bringing everyone to the table, was to allow the board of supervisors to hear from all involved. Bringing collective voices together will allow the supervisors to make an informed decision regarding Stone Bridge.

     Rens and her husband Kevin were in the area back in September 2016. at that time, with a crew from the University, they spent several days surveying Stone Bridge. From their findings, they put together a report on their suggested fixes and a timeline for the repairs. Rens said a structural analysis has yet to be completed.

     “The most important thing,” Rens said via conference call, “is we believe the bridge can be repaired. It seems to be in fairly good structural shape,” she added, despite the recent façade failure.

     Outlined in the University’s report, Rens stressed again the need to place curb and gutter along the edge/sides of the bridge. Rens said this should be done as soon as possible, as soon as the weather conditions dry up. She said once curb is in place, the water can properly drain off the bridge.

     “The important thing is the water needs to go around the bridge, not through it. And right now the water is going through it,” said Rens.

     However, Snead said, “No matter what we do to the bridge as far as drainage, there is no way to seal this bridge up and not have drainage issues. It’s open to the rain.” Snead said adding a curb will not prevent moisture from getting in. “There will be freeze-and-thaw action,” he added.

     Rens suggested “taking care of” the drainage issue would buy the county some time until the board decides what to do to the bridge.

     “You’ll have time to decide what you want to do, get your funding in place and move forward,” she said.

     With many options tossed out regarding the fate of Stone Bridge, Rohr said the Commission’s main responsibility is just to preserve the historic structure.

     Working with the University of Colorado, Rohr said their current in-kind contribution to the county is at $75,000 conservatively. She said having them return to address the drainage issue would be another $25,000 in-kind investment. Rohr said Rens quoted her $7,660 for materials.

     While the Commission does not tackle fundraising, Rohr said the county, Foundation of Friends group would need to come up with the cost for materials.

     “This is not a whole lot of money,” said Rohr. “But where that money comes from… whether it’s raised or from the county, that’s up to you.”

     Due to the work the University has already done concerning Stone Bridge, Rohr said it would only be smart to have them return.

     “We need to have specialized people working on this bridge because that’s what it takes,” she said.

     While Rohr said she has nothing against Snead working on the bridge, she said specialized expertise is needed.

     Sharon Hasler, a proponent of Stone Bridge, asked Snead if he was against the University taking the lead on the project. His reply: “Yes.

     “I don’t what any of their expertise is regarding bridge or mortar work,” he continued. “They’ll have no ties to the bridge after this project is done.”

     Assistant Engineer Todd Postel informed Hasler that any time the county lets a project like this they have to follow certain procedures and a hiring process. “No one has approached us,” said Postel. Once Colorado leaves the area, should anything more happen to the bridge, Postel said it would be in Snead’s hands as the county engineer because the county still owns the bridge.

     Rens clarified that their team of engineers has inspected over 600 bridges in the Denver area since the late ‘90s.

     “We do this kind of work often,” she said.

     Rohr added that Rens and her husband are both Iowa-licensed engineers.

     After offering five options concerning Stone Bridge, Snead explained that no matter what is done, the materials on and in the bridge are also an issue.

     “One thing to keep in mind with this bridge,” he said, “the fascias on either end of the bridge are just holding back embankment. The arches, that’s really the bridge portion of the actual structure. The fascia is really more like a retaining wall.”

     He also explained that the cement mortar isn’t allowing the bridge to breath. He said lime mortar is typically used on structures like this. “It’s flexible. It allows for drainage,” offered Snead. To basically reconstruct the stone fascia using lime mortar would be “an extremely large undertaking and very costly,” added Snead.

     Both the Foundation and Friends group exists to save Stone Bridge, not to see it deteriorate or demolished. Intlekofer said if the county spent $15,000 a year on bridge repairs, it would take an awful long time to get to $1.2 million, the cost associated with a new road and bridge.

     “So there is some economic sense to it besides the architectural and historic sense,” suggested Intlekofer.

     He and Farrowe said long term, developing a roadside park near Stone Bridge would also be an added attraction, bring money into the county.

     “I believe the bridge could bring in thousands of dollars to Jones County,” said Farrowe who did some research into trail systems throughout Iowa.

     She said a trail could easily be accomplished using existing paved and gravel roads, starting at local campgrounds and ending at Stone Bridge.

     “Iowa attracts bicyclists due to the extensive trail system in the state and high visibility events such as RAGBRAI,” explained Farrowe. She said an Iowa State University survey notes that 41 percent of Iowans use trails for recreational purposes, and Iowa is ranked sixth in the country in terms of being a bicycle friendly state.

     “It’s not a question of the opportunities that we are going to have,” Farrowe said of expanding the offerings near Stone Bridge, “it’s a question of how many opportunities are we going to lose. Do we let this bridge opportunity collapse into a river? Or do we take advantage of what our community has built?”

     Should the county wish to proceed with a roadside park, Mormann said Conservation could be on board to assist in the efforts. “The Conservation Board is open to options, what the community, supervisors and groups want to do,” offered Mormann. However, with two major projects on their hands at the moment (Central Park Lake and Mon Maq Dam), Mormann said it would be a few years before Conservation had the time, staff and resources to dedicate toward Stone Bridge.

     With all of the input offered, Zirkelbach said the board would take everything under advisement.

     Supervisors Ned Rohwedder and Joe Oswald said they are in favor of doing something that would save the bridge. Oswald admitted he was initially for closing the bridge, but since changed his mind after hearing from those present at the meeting.

     Supervisor Lloyd Eaken said while it would be a shame to see the bridge go, the board has to move forward with the “best option for everybody concerned.”

     Supervisor Wayne Manternach said he would side with what he feels is the best for the entire county.

     Zirkelbach said he is remaining neutral as chair of the board.


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