Renovations not in time

Bridge collapses months prior to planned work

Photo provided The Knowlton Covered Bridge in the Graysville area collapsed Friday, months prior to a planned renovation. The future of the site, and of the funding for the project, remains to be determined as county officials take stock of the situation after the July 4 holiday.

WOODSFIELD — The 132-year-old Knowlton Covered Bridge on Ohio 26 past Graysville collapsed Friday afternoon, even as the Monroe County Commissioners had hoped to renovate the structure and give it a new lease on life.

However, on Friday a cell phone camera captured the three-span bridge’s sudden fall into Little Muskingum River and the video soon spread across the internet.

Monroe County Engineer Amy Zwick was out of town Monday and assistant engineer James Fleeman said he was still familiarizing himself with the incident.

“I’m trying to talk to ODOT … and (get) the commissioners here to see what’s going on,” Fleeman said.

The bridge was a subject of discussion in May, when the renovation estimate was in the range of $900,000, 40 percent in excess of the expected amount. The county had received a $500,000 Neighborhood Revitalization Grant for projects in Graysville, in Washington Township. The county used this project as a match toward applying for a 2018 Community Development Block Grant Neighborhood Revitalization grant for Washington Township.

“We were working on a grant to totally rehab the bridge. We were getting ready to rebid that,” Fleeman said.

He added that after the bid came in too high, the county continued to work with a design consultant, with the goal of rebidding the project in August.

“The first item being to temporarily shore up the structure. Of course the structure just never made it that far. We had done some emergency repairs in the past to keep it along, but ultimately those efforts were not fruitful in making the structure last to the point where we could restore it,” Fleeman said.

Fleeman added that while the recent frequent storms have taken their toll on the area, in the bridge’s case he believes it was primarily the advanced age of the structure that ultimately led to the collapse.

“The weather was an issue,” Freeman said. “We did an emergency repair to the lower quarter on the upstream side of the structure. The middle arch, both sides were I think cracking or failing. That’s why we had it barricaded and restricted. No person was allowed on that bridge because of those issues.”

“I think Mother Nature just finally took its course with the structure,” he said. “Weather was a little bit of a contributing factor, but I’ve watched the video along with the rest of the public. At the time they were hearing creaking, which tells me the (bridge) was finally failing, causing the bridge to fall into the watershed.”

Fleeman said the county had been in the process of securing more funding, which could have accounted for the majority of the work.

“We had urgently tried for this funding, and ultimately nature beat us to the punch. We’re trying to talk to ODOT,” he said. “We are in talks with ODOT to cancel the sale because it’s not longer sitting there. … See whether they want to move ahead with this grant.”

Fleeman added that the commissioners owned the structure. He said he could not speculate if reconstructing the bridge was a possibility, or how much that would cost.

“The fact that Monroe County is in fiscal distress. … It’s up in the air now whether or not (the commissioners) want to commit the additional funds. … It’s their call, not our office’s.”

Fleeman said he could not comment on the state of cleaning up the debris.

On Monday, Monroe County Commissioners Carl Davis, Tim Price and Mick Schumacher expressed regret for the loss of the historic bridge and added that that they were in the process of getting in touch with ODOT.

“It’s been a concern that that very thing might happen before we could begin work. Unfortunately that was the case,” Price said.

“We just ran out of time,” Schumacher added.

ODOT’s public information officer could not be reached for comment.