Residents voice closed bridge concerns

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Mild tension surrounded a pair of discussions Monday as countyofficials attempted to ease concerns and soothe the tempers ofBogue Chitto residents upset about construction delays involving anew Bogue Chitto River bridge.

Tensions, which have simmered for 21 months over the closing ofthe old Bogue Chitto River bridge, increased in recent weeks afterthe contractor for the new bridge ceased work and apparentlyabandoned the project.

Nine Bogue Chitto residents met with county supervisors and thecounty engineer during the board’s meeting Monday morning. Thatevening, the county engineer and District Three Supervisor NolanEarl Williamson addressed a larger gathering of residents at thePeanut Shack, a Bogue Chitto business situated on the eastern bankof the river at the foot of the uncompleted bridge.

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Residents are upset about several issues concerning thebridge.

First and foremost, they said, is they were told the old bridgewould remain open – to avoid an eight-mile detour – until the newbridge was close to completion. The contractor, MidSouthConstruction Co. of Columbia, tore down the old bridge almostimmediately after securing the site.

Secondly, the project has taken nearly two years and acompletion date is still a minimum of several months in thefuture.

To make matters worse, they said, the contractor removed workcrews and equipment from the bridge around September. Crews havenot returned.

County officials, however, said that under the terms of thecontract they had no power to act until last week, when thecontract expired. Since then, they have notified the contractor andthe bonding company of their intention to terminate thecontract.

The contractor has until May 12 to move his crews and equipmentback on site to complete the contract.

“We know he’s not coming back,” said County Engineer Carl RayFurr. “He goes into default on a Friday. That next Monday we willdeclare him in default and have a prepared resolution ready to besigned.”

From that point, Furr said, the bonding agency has 20 days totake over the contract themselves or subcontract another contractorto complete the job.

County officials have already begun negotiations with thebonding agency, Furr said, and an agent of that company will visitthe bridge site Wednesday to evaluate their liability and decidehow to proceed.

The original bridge contract was awarded for $2.8 million. Thecontractor has been paid $2.63 million for work done so far,leaving nearly $553,500 left in federal funds to complete thecontract, Furr said.

“Do I think they can do it with the half million that’s left forthe contract? No. The bonding agency is going to take a hit,” Furrsaid.

Completion of the bridge will not cost taxpayers any more thancalled for by the original contract, he said. Any cost overrunshave to be absorbed by the bonding agency.

The contractor is also being assessed a fine of $390 for eachday since the contract expired that they could be working on theproject until the bridge’s completion.

“It’s in the best interests of the bonding agency to get thatbridge completed quickly,” Furr said. “They’re going to try to cuttheir losses.”

However, it will likely be at least two months from now beforework will begin at the site again because of the legal process thatmust be followed, he said. A time estimate of when the bridge mightbe completed was impossible to determine at this point.

Furr and Williamson pledged to pressure the bonding agency tomove quickly to complete the bridge and to build a temporary BogueChitto River crossing at the site to ease travel concerns.

“We have been patient, very patient,” said J.R. Roberts, a BogueChitto resident. “But we have been mislead about this bridge fromday one.”

MidSouth was the awarded the contract by submitting the lowestand best bid for the project. At the time they won the contract,their past record was good, Furr said, but supervisors wereconcerned about the small-sized company taking on such a largecontract.

“There were concerns voiced when the bid was awarded, but at thetime our hands were tied by state law,” Furr said, adding that thelaw requires the county to accept the lowest bid as long as itmeets bid requirements.

The Bogue Chitto River Bridge was one of several large contractsawarded to the company in a short time frame, Furr said, and theymay have become overextended.

MidSouth has been terminated from a bridge contract in AmiteCounty and Simpson County is also in the process of terminating iton a bridge contract. Leake County has also had problems with thecontractor on its bridge contract.

All of those contracts are in the process of being taken over bythe bonding agency, Furr said, but the Bogue Chitto River bridgehas a good chance of being the first to see contractors return tothe site because it is the largest of the projects and it isapproximately 80 percent complete. It was also the first of thecontracts that was awarded.

Representatives of MidSouth were not present at either meetingMonday. Company officials have not accepted previous invitations toappear at board meetings.