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Counties want Milltown bridge out

The question of whether the old, single-lane Milltown bridge will remain in the Blue River appears all but settled as commissioners from Harrison and Crawford counties Thursday night unanimously approved an interlocal agreement that stipulates funding for a new, approximately $1.7-million bridge joining the two counties is contingent upon removal of the old one.
It’s all but settled because Harrison County District 3 Commissioner Terry Miller left the door open ‘ albeit slightly ‘ when he said he would favor re-examining the old bridge’s future if supporters of turning it into a pedestrian bridge can find a way to make keeping it in the water feasible.
The likelihood of it actually staying, however, doesn’t appear strong. Fellow Harrison County Commissioner J.R. Eckart, who represents District 2, said while he isn’t against building a new bridge, he is already having a difficult time supporting the project since it replaces one bridge in the flood plain with another and keeping the old bridge may just cause problems in the future.
Eckart was a supporter of earlier plans to build a new bridge at the old railroad bridge site just upstream that would have kept the bridge, as well as roadway, out of the flood plain that were scrapped because they were too expensive.
‘I was and still am 100 percent in favor of that,’ he said.
The timing of the meeting, scheduled the previous week, was ironic, as heavy rains had Milltown ‘ and the old bridge ‘ under water for a couple of days last week.
Perhaps it was because of the flooding that the meeting was sparsely attended despite larger crowds at recent Milltown Town Council meetings. In fact, Jeanie Melton, the only council member present, was the sole proponent of possibly keeping the bridge in attendance.
After attorney John E. Colin, who represents both Crawford and Harrison counties, read the interlocal agreement, which calls for Harrison County to provide 60 percent of the construction dollars with Crawford providing the remaining 40 percent, Melton asked if the agreement meant the old bridge would definitely be removed.
‘So, am I to assume from the verbiage that I believe you have read that you would not move forward if the bridge was not removed?’ she asked.
Colin, answering for the commissioners, said that, according to the agreement, that is correct.
Melton then relayed to the commissioners a call she received from an 81-year-old woman who just learned of the old bridge’s uncertain future. The woman, Melton shared, said she grew up in Milltown and walked across the bridge on her way back and forth to school, thus providing many fond memories of the bridge.
‘And that is what we’re hearing’ from a lot of people, Melton said.
Melton said she has talked with a potential corporate sponsor about providing matching funds for a grant to maintain the old bridge, whose center pier dates to 1862 and iron truss to 1913, as a pedestrian bridge if Crawford County, whose inventory the bridge is listed, would relinquish ownership to the town.
‘There is a lot of (financial) difference in maintaining the bridge as a historical site for pedestrian traffic and for vehicular traffic,’ she said.
Melton also referred to a letter from former Indiana First Lady Judy O’Bannon, from Harrison County, encouraging holding off on making a decision to remove the old bridge until a study is conducted to determine if keeping the bridge is feasible from both an engineering and financial standpoint.
‘I just ask you to entertain that,’ Melton said.
Harrison County Board of Commissioners Chair James Goldman, whose district the Harrison County side of Milltown is in, said he is worried that keeping the old bridge, which would be just downstream from the new span, would keep the project from receiving the required permits.
‘To me, that’s one of the obstacles we’re confronted with immediately,’ he said.
Larry Bye, president of the Crawford County Board of Commissioners and whose district includes the Crawford County side of the town, said he appreciates Melton’s efforts but explained he is worried that leaving the old bridge, if it ever came down, could harm the new bridge.
While Melton was the only person present to speak in favor of keeping the old bridge, Milltown residents Bill Byrd and Duke and Kathleen Roggenkamp said they opposed doing so, citing the need, as evidenced by last week’s flood and the closure of another bridge northwest of town, to get a new bridge in place as soon as possible.
Kathleen Roggenkamp said she, like Eckart, favors building a new bridge out of the flood plain, but she understands the financial realities and the town can’t wait much longer to get a a new bridge.
Roggenkamp, 83, has seen Milltown flood several times. She added that she ‘would love to see the old bridge left, but we’re poor’ and have to make do with the financial resources available to ensure that the residents of Milltown aren’t left without a bridge.
‘God’s been really good to us to get out of this flood and cross this bridge in a week’s time,’ she said.
‘Kathleen,’ Bye said, ‘I wish we had the money to build he bridge on the railroad right-of-way.’
Crawford County District 3 Commissioner James Schultz said he hopes the old bridge can be relocated to dry land and preserved.
The new bridge, according to earlier reports, would be 29 feet wide with two, 12-foot lanes, a sidewalk and a utility chase, and would cost approximately $1.7 million.
According to the interlocal agreement, the 60/40 split on construction costs include removing the old bridge and center pier. The agreement, however, stipulates that Harrison County will not be financially responsible for relocating utilities on the old bridge to the new one.
The interlocal agreement is subject to the funding approval of both counties’ councils.