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Locals lament troubled bridge over waters

Bogue Chitto residents are disgruntled that a $2.8 millionbridge linking the town to much of its eastern population has notbeen completed.

A solution for the delayed bridge project is being pursued, butofficials say it will probably be months before the project iscompleted.

It’s maddening, J.R. Roberts said, to see a bridge so near tocompletion standing idle.

Roberts and his wife, Elaine, own a convenience store in BogueChitto, and he said he has suffered a 50 percent drop in businessduring school months and 80 percent or more of their business inthe summer months since construction began on the bridge inSeptember 2003.

“Last summer, we liked not to have survived,” he said. “Theyhave killed Bogue Chitto.”

Another store in Bogue Chitto already has closed because of adecline in sales, residents said.

Jeff Wilson, owner of the Peanut Shack at the foot of the bridgeon the western bank of the Bogue Chitto River, said the closure ofthe road for the bridge replacement cost him $5,000 in profit lastyear alone.

He said he typically sells more than three tons of peanutsannually but only sold 4,222 pounds of peanuts last year.

“My business is off by nearly 1,800 pounds of peanuts,” Wilsonsaid. “That’s nearly a third of my total business.”

Many of his customers, he said, live on the eastern side of theriver and are simply not willing to make the detour south to FoxRoad to come to Bogue Chitto.

“And why should they?,” he asked. “By the time they can makethat trip they can be in Brookhaven where they can make other stopstoo.”

Bogue Chitto resident Grub Bales is one of those living on theeastern side of the river. Bales lives two miles east of thebridge.

“I have to drive nine miles one way to go to the post office toget my mail, eat lunch or get my kids to school if they miss thebus,” he said. “They don’t miss the bus.”

The ire of some residents has been slowly building since theproject passed its projected completion date in November 2004.

Many were not happy at the beginning of the project to learnthey would have to detour to Fox Road but were told a temporarybridge would be too costly. At the time, residents said, they werewilling to make the sacrifice.

A temporary bridge at the site was not feasible with an existingdetour route, said County Engineer Carl Ray Furr.

“Canadian National (Railroad) wouldn’t allow it and we couldn’tafford it,” he said.

Residents have, at times, been able to use a hastily constructedmakeshift bridge cobbled together by the contractor using lumber.That bridge was limited to contractor use during the day, but asevere thunderstorm Tuesday washed away the foundation of thetemporary bridge and using it is no longer an option.

What has really angered them, residents said, is inactivity onthe bridge.

“I’m here every day, and they haven’t hit a lick on that bridgein six weeks,” Wilson said.

He said he seethed as he watched the contractor pack up hisequipment and drive away weeks ago. No one has returned to work onthe bridge since, he said.

The bridge is one span away from crossing the Bogue ChittoRiver, Beaver Creek and the railroad tracks. Side rails and somedirt work also need to be finished.

District Three Supervisor Nolan Earl Williamson estimated theproject could be completed in three weeks with the right personneland equipment.

Williamson also expressed some frustration at the length of theproject.

“Cars should have been going through there in November,” hesaid. “The people have been gracious, but … it’s time for thebridge to be open. And it wouldn’t take much if they would just getdown there and get it done.”

The supervisor said he is aware that residents are becomingdisgruntled.

“I’ve had more calls on that project in the last week than Ihave since (the construction work) started,” Williamson said.

However, the supervisor said once the county let the contractand hired a contractor to do the work, it was no longer in thecounty’s hands.

“Once I let the job I’m out of it. And that’s wrong,” Williamsonsaid.

County officials should have some influence on ongoingconstruction jobs, he said.

Furr agreed.

“The county is just the middle man,” he said. “We have nocontrol over who gets paid when or (over) the project itself.”

The $2.8 million Bogue Chitto River Bridge project was fundedentirely through the federal highway administration’s BridgeReplacement Program, Furr said. When a project utilizes federalfunds and is administered by State Aid, Furr said, the county hasno influence on the project.

Unfortunately for the county, Furr said, the contractor,Midsouth Construction Co., of Columbia, still has about a week lefton its contract to complete the project.

Government contracts are not based on calendar days, but ratheron working days – days that meet weather and other requirements toestablish the number of days contractors could have worked on thesite.

“The contractor is contending he hasn’t had enough dry days,”Furr said Wednesday, adding that the number of days the contractorhad is irrelevant because “we know he can’t complete the bridge innine working days.”

Furr said the county board met Monday to exert what little powerit had on the project. The board issued a letter to Midsouthwarning that its contract was about to be terminated.

“Right now our problem is the contractor,” he said. “We haveserious doubts he can and will complete the contract.”

Similar projects in Simpson and Amite counties also contractedto Midsouth are encountering the same problems, Furr said.

“We think the (company) is in serious (financial trouble),” hesaid.

Monday’s letter is the first step in a multistep process, Furrsaid. Under the existing contract, Midsouth would be liable for$390 per day in penalty fees for each day beyond the working daysthat the contract is unfulfilled.

“He will be penalized,” Furr said.

Once the termination process is complete, Furr said, it wouldstill take another 30 to 45 days to let a new contract.

There are too many variables involved to estimate an approximatecompletion date at this point, Furr said.

Messages left at Midsouth on Wednesday and Thursday for ownersSteve Gilbert and Bill Baughman were not returned.