Unused bridge gets $500k federal grant

Published: Sunday, August 19, 2012 @ 11:00 AM
Updated: Sunday, August 19, 2012 @ 11:00 AM

The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded Greene County a $520,000 federal grant to restore a historic covered bridge that is closed to traffic and carries few pedestrians in a lightly-traveled area of Xenia Twp.

All told, the Stevenson Road Covered Bridge will cost $650,000 to restore, according to engineering estimates, with the county kicking in the last $130,000. The bridge sits alongside Stevenson Road, connecting grassy areas on either side of Massie’s Creek, and is not attached to a park, bike/walk path or other attraction.

Ohio has more than 100 remaining covered bridges, five in Greene County, and many historical groups support preserving them.

“Covered bridges are pretty rare everywhere now,” said Catherine Wilson, director of the Greene County Historical Society. “A lot of tourists visit them.”

But Xenia Twp. trustee Jim Reed, who was not involved in the county’s grant application, is upset about federal priorities, given that spending on a nonfunctional bridge will cost more than Xenia Twp.’s entire annual roads budget of $610,000.

“Those grants should be coming down for the basics – repairing aging water lines, sewer lines, roads,” Reed said. “These projects, because they’re somebody’s pet project, those are getting priority, and it makes absolutely no sense.”

Greene County is not the only jurisdiction to get one of these grants. The National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program approved 22 of the 28 applications submitted for 2012, and will dole out $9.76 million. Miami County will receive an $80,000 grant for work on the Eldean Bridge in Troy, which carries some traffic and is adjacent to a recreational trail and park complex.

In the past seven years, the program has approved $62.2 million for more than 150 covered bridges nationwide, some that are still used by vehicles, some that are not.

Greene County engineer Bob Geyer said bridge expert John Smolen of Smolen Engineering sent in the grant application with his approval after load-testing the bridge. Geyer said he’s seen the $520,000 grant award listed on a government website, but said he hasn’t been officially notified.

“This is money set aside in a transportation bill by senators and congressmen, and if I didn’t get it, someone else would,” Geyer said. “This is all coming out of federal gas tax money that you pay at the pump every time you put a gallon of gas in your car.”

Brad Bieghler, who helped found the Tea Party-affiliated Beavercreek Liberty Group, doesn’t believe that’s a good reason.

“Our nation is $15 or 16 trillion in debt,” he said. “Just because somebody says, well gee, the money’s there, they’re giving the money away anyway, so let’s take advantage of it … that’s got to stop.”

Smolen called covered bridges “a piece of Americana.” In addition to sending in the Stevenson Road application, his company has bid on multiple projects in Greene County and designed the new covered bridge in Hueston Woods State Park in Preble County. Geyer said any contracts to work on the Stevenson bridge would come as the result of a competitive bid process.

The Stevenson Road Covered Bridge was built over Massie’s Creek in 1877. Wilson said it is Greene County’s last remaining bridge built by the famed Smith Bridge Company of Tipp City.

The Ohio Department of Transportation website calls historic bridges “a cultural resource as well as a work of art.” Nancy Campbell of the Ohio Historic Preservation Office said the Stevenson Bridge is not one of the state’s rare, highest priority bridges, but it is eligible for consideration for the National Register of Historic Places.

The bridge carried traffic until 2003, but was a problem for emergency vehicles, which had to detour around it. That year, the county built a $650,000 modern concrete bridge 100 feet downstream and moved Stevenson Road there, stranding the old bridge.

On a recent visit to the bridge, No Trespassing signs warned people away from the east entrance. The interior of the bridge was covered in graffiti, some of it sexually and racially profane, and beer bottles were strewn around one side.

Dorothy Pitzer, who has lived just uphill from the bridge for 40 years, said she misses driving through the bridge, but rarely sees much activity there now, either from tour groups or people causing trouble.

She likes the history of it, but was surprised that the restoration plan would replace almost all of the bridge — the floor system, roof and siding.

“I don’t know why they would do that, because nobody uses it,” Pitzer said. “It just sits over by itself. … I guess I can see both sides (of the issue).”

Because it doesn’t connect to anything, the Stevenson Road bridge reminds some of the “bridge to nowhere” — a 2005 proposal in Alaska that would have spent millions to connect two towns with tiny populations. That project was canceled amid public outcry.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, sent out a press release when the grant was approved this month, calling the bridge, “an important historical landmark to the community.” But a spokesman for Brown said the senator wasn’t involved in the process, saying his office was notified after the grant was approved.

Reed, a township trustee, understands that this Department of Transportation money is earmarked specifically for this type of project, but he hopes that will change.

“There are roads – not county roads, but local roads in nearby jurisdictions — that are so rough, you need four-wheel drive to get to people’s homes,” he said. “You can’t tell me that day-to-day travel projects aren’t more important than other frivolous projects.”

Geyer said the county will continue to work on its five covered bridges. Only the Ballard Road bridge is currently open to traffic, and it’s at the bottom of a dead-end road. He said funding has been in place to fix the Engle Mill Road Bridge for years, and he hopes to get that project out to bid in 2012.

The county and the Ohio Public Works Commission will split the $700,000 cost of replacing the Charleton Mill Covered Bridge, which closed last year. Geyer said that one was “too far gone” to rehab, but he’s going to put in a new wood truss capable of carrying legal load limits, while maintaining the look of an old covered bridge from the outside.

“I’d like to get all of the old covered bridges rehabilitated so they’re here for future generations,” Geyer said. “It’s history.”

The second National Covered Bridge Conference will be held in Dayton in June 2013.

Springboro police chief serves as chaplain during hurricane recovery

Published: Saturday, September 23, 2017 @ 10:00 AM

            Springboro Police Chief Jeff Kruithof photographed the devastation from Hurricane Harvey in the area around Rockport, Texas.
Springboro Police Chief Jeff Kruithof photographed the devastation from Hurricane Harvey in the area around Rockport, Texas.

For two weeks, Springboro Police Chief Jeff Kruithoff offered a sympathetic ear and other assistance to first responders in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

More than 80 people died and countless injuries reported as Harvey flooded and leveled coastal and inland communities after making landfall with winds of 130 mph at Rockport, Texas, on Aug. 25.

Over the next five days, the storm flooded hundreds of thousands of homes, leaving more than 30,000 people homeless and prompting more than 17,000 rescues.

In Rockport, Kruithoff and another chaplain with law enforcement experience “debriefed” police, fire, ambulance and dispatch workers scrambling to help all the victims.

“We were really able to help a lot of people process the storm,” Kruithoff said.

“Dispatchers were terribly affected,” he recalled, sitting in the conference room at city hall. “They can’t do anything if they don’t have anyone to dispatch.”

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Kruithoff was among 60 Rapid Response Chaplains sent to the disaster by Billy Graham Ministries.

The program developed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and since then, the chaplains have used their special training to assist in more than 260 crises around the world.

They bring to bear “the compassion of Jesus Christ” and “the ability to listen,” said Scott Holmquist of the North Carolina-based ministries.

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“They are in the mix,” Holmquist added, gauging where those they are helping are in processing “grief due to loss.”

Kruithoff was on the ground amid the catastrophe from Aug. 29 to Sept. 10.

It was his second deployment, after supporting workers with Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian humanitarian aid founded by Franklin Graham in recovery efforts after floods in Ripley County, Miss.

Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, now heads the organization’s web of faith-based programs.

MORE: How to help Hurricane Harvey victims

Kruithoff estimated he prayed with 25 to 50 workers and victims a day, in addition to engaging individuals in talks designed to allow them to work through traumatic stress that comes with experiencing such a disaster.

“We don’t come in and hit them with a Bible over the head,” he said. “We let them tell their story.”

The cathartic process typically takes five to nine such talks, Kruithoff said.

“We want people to remember the incident, but not relive the incident,” he said.

In addition, chaplains encourage those traumatized to find several things they liked before the storm, maybe golf or going for a walk, but to move on, rather than expect to return to life as before the storm.

“There’s a new reality,” he said, adding the chaplains also encourage healthy habits, including eating and drinking enough, and help work through sleep problems.

With permission, the chaplains end sessions with a prayer.

Kruithoff and Holmquist acknowledged the program offers a chance to rededicate lives to Christ.

“We will never take advantage of people,” Holmquist said. “We will use the circumstance to meet them at their place of need.”

During his Texas work, Kruithoff listened to firefighters recalling walls of their station move six to eight inches.

“They had to tie their bay doors to their fire trucks so they didn’t blow out,” he said.

Kruithoff rented a car and began driving to Houston after evacuation centers were opened there.

“I had to take some detours because of flooded roads,” he said.

At one point, he disregarded GPS directions to turn down a gravel road between Corpus Christi and Houston.

Luckily, he soon came upon a trucker who he followed “until we got to a state highway.”

In Houston, Kruithoff presented a Bible to Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and coordinated the “faith response” to the police department and sheriff’s office.

MORE: Houston perserveres through immense loss

During line-ups at shift openings, Kruithoff would offer a prayer for officers about to go out onto the storm-ravaged streets.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen police, regardless of their spiritual faith, turning down a prayer going into a shift,” he said.

Kruithoff is part of a new group of chaplains with law-enforcement experience in the program.

When asked about the apparent contrast between police and religious work, Kruithoff said, “There were only two things I was going to be in my life, a minister or a policeman.”

Still, he acknowledged the two frames of reference sometimes conflict, placing obstacles in the way of his “faith walk.”

As Kruithoff worked in Houston, Springboro officials expressed their support and gratitude during a Sept. 7 city council meeting.

MORE: Hurricane response delays Springboro intersection work

“We commend him, we thank him and we’ve been communicating with him so that he stays safe,” City Manager Christine Thompson said.

Mayor John Agenbroad added, “That’s what America is all about, helping out when somebody’s down.”

Hurricane response stalls central Springboro crossroads construction

Published: Friday, September 22, 2017 @ 6:49 AM
Updated: Friday, September 22, 2017 @ 12:01 PM

Aerial view Springboro transforming as demolition ends, road construction begins.

On Monday Duke Energy contractors are expected to be back at work related to a $10 million intersection project in Springboro after two weeks assisting recovery from Hurricane Irma in Florida.

“Crews expect to complete the second half of utility work on the project in about two weeks,” Sally Thelen, Duke Energy spokesperson, said Friday.

“We appreciate the patience of the Springboro community in understanding the magnitude of Hurricane Irma, and look forward to getting out there Monday to resume work on the project,” Thelen added.

“Please keep in mind, Hurricane Irma was the most significant storm to ever hit Duke Energy’s service territory in Florida. It affected every one of the 35 counties Duke Energy serves in Florida – some more severely than others. In many instances, crews had to rebuild the electrical system as a result of significant damage.”

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On Thursday, Springboro City Manager Christine Thompson said she expected road construction at the city’s central crossroads to be delayed for “several weeks” for lack of utility crews to do work at and around the intersection of Ohio 741 and Ohio 73, Main Street and Central Avenue in Springboro.

Milcon Concrete, the project contractor, notified the city it was pulling crews at the site until utility work can be completed, Thompson said Thursday during a city council work session.

“The utility companies are sending every team they have to Florida and Houston,” Thompson said, in her last council briefing before her retirement at the end of the month. “We are probably going to be held up for several weeks.”

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The Warren County Engineer’s Office, which is managing the project, confirmed Duke contractors, involved in the Hurricane Harvey recovery, had been pulled off the Springboro intersection project.

“The project completion date is not expected to be affected due to the project having been running three weeks ahead of schedule,” Savannah R. Shafer, director of communications for the engineer’s office, said Friday.

Milcon crews were still working Friday, but company officials could not be reached.

Workers indicated pole contractors were also needed before their work could continue.

It was unclear Milcon when planned to stop or restart work.

RELATED: Springboro sets aside part of $3.4 million in shopping center payment for cleanup

On Friday, the city e-newsletter indicated the delay could be two or three weeks and advised residents of a traffic pattern change coming.

“Next Wednesday night the traffic pattern will be switched such that the traveling public will be utilizing the south side of the road and not the north side of the road. Please adjust your schedule accordingly Thursday morning while the everyone adjusts to the new traffic patterns,” the newsletter said.

“So over the next few weeks, residents may see little to no work being done at the intersection, as we wait for Duke to re-engage in the project.”

RELATED: Crossroads construction to begin

The road project and redevelopment of the northwest corner is to cost the city more than $15 million. The intersection, expected to cost about $10 million, was to be completed by late summer or early fall 2018.

Construction began in June.

At the council meeting, Councilman Jim Chmiel asked if Milcon planned to open up the eastbound curb lane of Ohio 73, closed off for the construction, before leaving the site.

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Thompson said this was unlikely, but she would contact the contractor.

RELATED: 6 things to know about project

Also Thursday, Thompson said Speedway had agreed to settle litigation over the southwest corner, where it owned and operated a gas station-convenience store taken for the project.

RELATED: Speedway final property need for crossroads reconstruction

The former sites of two other corner gas stations have been cleared.

Warren County lodging tax to finance $15M sports complex

Published: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 11:34 AM

            New England Way is across Greentree Road and near the proposed Warren County Sports Park at Union Village. STAFF / LAWRENCE BUDD
New England Way is across Greentree Road and near the proposed Warren County Sports Park at Union Village. STAFF / LAWRENCE BUDD

The lodging tax that funds the Warren County Convention & Visitors Bureau will be pledged to pay off debt on a $15 million sports complex to be built west of Lebanon.

This morning, the county commissioners agreed to pledge the 3 percent lodgings tax, as well as 1 percent recently added, to fund the Warren County Sports Park at Union Village.

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A portion of the 3 percent is expected to be needed to satisfy holders of the bonds funding the project.

“Whatever is left over they get for their operations,” Deputy County Administrator Martin Russell said.

RELATED: Warren County ups lodgings tax to pay for sports complex

Also, the commissioners voted to transfer the property for the sports complex to the Warren County Port Authority.

The state law enabling the additional 1 percent in lodgings tax was amended to allow the port authority, rather than the county itself, to own the sports complex.

“We had that law changed,” Russell said during a work session with the commissioners.

RELATED: 12,000 residents, $1.5B in investment expected at Union Village

Next Monday, the port authority, an independent board created by the commissioners, is expected to vote to issue more than $15 million in debt to pay for the facility, off Ohio 741 and Greentree Road in Turtlecreek Twp.

“Warren County taxpayers have zero liability,” Commissioner Dave Young said.

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The port authority would turn over operation of the sports complex to the CVB.

Logan County auditor: Hire more deputies to make jail safer

Published: Sunday, September 17, 2017 @ 12:00 PM
Updated: Friday, September 15, 2017 @ 5:41 PM

Logan County Auditor says county can afford to hire more deputies

The Logan County Jail is overwhelmed with inmates, according to the sheriff, but has had trouble with staffing since its budget was cut several years ago.

Now the county auditor says money is available to hire more deputies, but budgets haven’t changed.

Around 2008, county budgets, like many budgets across Ohio, were cut as a response to the Great Recession, Logan County Auditor Michael Yoder said.

RELATED: Clark County inmates charged with riot amid overcrowding complaints

That meant layoffs for the sheriff’s office, Logan County Sheriff Randy Dodds said.

“We’ve never recovered from that,” Dodds said.

The jail has a capacity of about 140 inmates, he said, but after the cuts it held about 70 to 80 inmates with three corrections officers.

But lately, with the heroin epidemic, the jail has been holding many more inmates, he said. At one time it reached nearly 130 inmates, which requires about 5 or 6 corrections officers.

“I’ve had to increase my staffing levels because of safety issues, which causes overtime,” he said. “And a lot of overtime.”

It’s changed how deputies operate, Dodds said.

“We went from a proactive department to a reactive department simply because we just don’t have the staffing,” he said.

The county has since recovered from the recession, Yoder said.

READ MORE: Pods under Clark County Jail closed over security concerns

“The sales tax has gone up dramatically in the last few years, which is great … Overall the economy has just improved in the past few years and we’ve been recipients of that improvement,” he said.

It’s Yoder’s opinion that the county can now afford to hire more deputies.

“It’s a matter of safety as it relates to the sheriff’s office,” he said.

But Yoder said county commissioners have kept budgets flat.

“I believe that many of the counties have increased their budgets since that time, where we’ve pretty much remained flat,” he said.

Logan County commissioners declined to talk to the Springfield News-Sun about the budgets.

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The reason commissioners have kept budgets flat might be because more cash reserves give the county a better bond rating, Yoder said, making it cheaper for the county needs to borrow money.

“I’m not certain that there’s an awful lot of borrowing that needs to be done at this time,” he said.

Commissioners should spend money responsibly, Logan County Resident Kimberly Kerns said, but she’d support a budget increase for the sheriff’s office.

“They’re our No. 1 priority for our community to keep us safe,” she said of deputies.

If the sheriff’s office had more resources, she said it could help to combat the heroin epidemic.

“That’s our safety and we’ve got to get a hold on this heroin thing,” she said.

Dodds believes the staffing situation will get better. He plans to hire a few more corrections officers soon.

“Budgets are tight and money is tight and I think things will get better in time,” he said.

Decisions on the county budget for next year will be made in the coming months.