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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Commission lets bridge grant slip away despite new deadline

Updated: Jun 10

The so-called Hell's Bend bridge, a fracture critical structure that crosses over railroad tracks and is used by land owners to access farm ground and houses on the west side. The Linn County Commission did not act on Monday to accept a state grant to fund about 80% of the replacement cost despite an extended state deadline (Journal file photo)

By Charlene Sims,

MOUND CITY – The Linn County Commission at its meeting on Monday, May 20, was told that the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) had given commissioners an extension until Tuesday to change their minds about accepting a $1.79 million grant to replace the Hell’s Bend bridge. 

At the commission meeting a week earlier a motion by Commission Chair Jason Hightower did not receive a second from fellow commissioners Jim Johnson and Danny McCullough. The inaction on the motion came after a representative with the county’s on-call engineer firm warned that turning down the grant would likely keep the county from receiving further bridge construction grants for several years.

At the May 20 meeting, Public Works Director Shaun West told commissioners that Tod Salfrank, the local projects bureau chief from KDOT had called to give the county one last chance.

But even after hearing from landowners and representatives of landowners asking for the commission to reconsider their choice, the Linn County Commissioners let the opportunity for the grant slip away. 

Several people spoke during public comment session asking the commissioners to reconsider the grant. 

Keith Tucker, Farmer’s National Company, a land management company representing UMB Financial Corporation landowner, a trustee for the Michael Wayne Hudson share trust and a landowner in Linn County, said that this trust owned multiple trusts in the county including land on the west side of the Hell’s Bend Bridge. 

Tucker said that his client owns the land there and it generates a significant source of income for their beneficiary just from the farming operation and currently that bridge has declined in the weight rating for what can be pulled across it. He said the rating does not legally support the weight of a tractor and planter.

“I’m at a loss at how to continue to operate if the bridge doesn’t get rebuilt or repaired,” said Tucker.

Next, Brandon Milliron, the tenant the farms that land told the commissioners that the farm represents a substantial part of his operations and with tractors and equipment weighing what they do now, they weigh more than the bridge is rated for. He asked the commissioners to reconsider their decision. 

Shannon Privett, a real estate manager for UMB Bank spoke next. She told the commissioners that this would not only be a significant loss for Milliron as UMB’s farmer on this property but it is a significant loss for the company’s beneficiary from whom the bank must maintain a standard of living until his passing and then it continues on. So, repairing this bridge is not only crucial to the income source for him but future beneficiaries down the road. It  would be better suited for UMB to be able to provide our fiduciary duty and having proper access to the land.

Privett said that on Friday, she spoke with a neighbor on the west side of the bridge who owns a conservation easement. She said that he is in favor of repairing the bridge because it would affect him as well.

Landowner, Henry Ferguson, spoke next. He said that if the bridge was condemned he would not have access to his land or house on the other side of the bridge. He said he hated to see that in the very beginning when the bridge was built that it had a structural defect in the design. 

Ferguson said that it would help him and other people if the bridge was rebuilt because he didn’t know how property owners would get there if the bridge wasn’t there.

West said that Salfrank had contacted him and they had discussed the process at length, and Salfrank told him that with the funding and the efforts that the state had made, the funding mechanism for this bridge will disappear on May 21.

West told the commissioners that Salfrank said that KDOT’s stance on it is that the funding is available until tomorrow. They extended this from last week’s deadline and that’s their position. West said the bureau chief assured him that the funding would cease tomorrow for the project.

Last week the county’s on-call engineering representative Chad McCullough, Kaw Valley, explained the lengths that the state had gone through to help Linn County get this grant. McCullough said that the state had gone over the budget limit to make sure this bridge could be funded, they had relet the bid at the county’s request to see if more companies would bid and lower the cost. When the second bid came with two bidders and was lower so that the county could pay $70,000 less, the commissioners still refused to accept the grant.

Engineer McCullough explained that many people had put many hours into this project including engineering firms, state staff and the Linn County staff for several years. Engineer McCullough said that he did not think that the state would consider funding this project again if the grant was turned down. He also inferred that it might be a while before Linn County received any bridge grants from the state.

The project’s total cost would have been $1.99 million with the county paying 20%,  $439,000, plus rights-of-way costs and engineering consultation fees. The county had already paid out the money for the right-of-way purchases and the engineering consultation fees.

According to County Clerk David Lamb at the April 29 meeting, the county has about $1.2 million in their budget now for bridge projects partly because they have been collecting the money to specifically replace the Hell’s Bend bridge..

Despite hearing public comments and West’s information from the state, the commissioners did not discuss the project this week.

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