OTTUMWA — If nothing else, the Wapello County Board of Supervisors knew how the residents felt about the Wabash Railroad pedestrian bridge.

In the end, the board had no intention of going against those wishes.

Twenty residents, including former elected officials, current elected officials and county trains board members, vehemently expressed their support to repair the bridge, which was damaged by arson on the south end last winter. The supervisors also supported it by approving the plans and cost estimate for a new segment.

The cost will run between $312,000 and $325,000, depending on how much the county can save costs by doing some work itself, and the funding from the county's end will come from sales tax money devoted to capital improvements.

But for the almost two dozen people in the courthouse courtroom, money was no object.

"It's a valuable asset to the community. I don't want to spend a whole lot of money, but I think this is an important thing," resident Brenda Case said.

Former supervisor Steve Siegel, who served on the board of supervisors with current supervisor Jerry Parker when the county purchased the bridge, said the bridge "symbolizes the trails system."

"We went through a struggle to keep that bridge, and it's one of the oldest structures in Ottumwa that's still standing," Siegel said. "It goes back to the 1870s, but it's a vital part of the trail system. We really need it."

Others also spoke in favor of repairing the bridge. Main Street Ottumwa Executive Director Fred Zesiger said it connects the Main Street district with the south side of Ottumwa; former mayor Tom Lazio agreed that "it's an integral part of the trail system. Well-known throughout the state."

Current Ottumwa mayor Rick Johnson also agreed the bridge is important, but hopes the supervisors in the future will work toward reducing vandalism on the bridge.

"I'd ask to see what kind of enhancements can be made. I don't know if additional lighting or cameras would deter people form doing vandalism, and I know there's always going to be vandalism," he said. "Hopefully there are things that can be done, so we're not doing the repairs over and over, because that can get very costly."

Parker told the audience the board never entertained the thought of closing the bridge permanently, but was appreciative of the feedback from the room.

"Our intentions are to fix it. I think the comments here show that maybe we're heading in the right direction," he said.

The supervisors approved the plans, but county engineer Jeff Skalberg pointed out a potential snag.

"I see two big obvious errors in the set of plans," he said. "One, this bridge is going to be about eight feet short. And, it's also reference old Iowa DOT standards from 2012."

The standards changed, Skalberg said, in 2015. That was news to supervisor Wayne Huit, who was largely tasked with putting the project together.

"You're looking at specs for a bridge for automobiles, trucks and stuff. Not just a pedestrian bridge," he said.

"It would be the same specs that all bridges use," Skalberg said.

"I can't see that, because there's not that much capacity on the bridge," Huit said.

Parker told Skalberg to reach out to the engineer — Klingner & Associates — that there are some questions about the plan.

Bids for the project will be accepted until Dec. 19 at 4 p.m., and the supervisors will approve a bid Dec. 27.

"We have the money to pay for this," Parker said. "But we hope the trails committee would have some fundraisers to replenish whatever we give.

"When we first started on this they said it would be at least a year before we can get a contractor that would even have the time to work on this," he said. "But we're going to let this contract in the winter when they're planning summer stuff. We'll be a part of that, and that's really important."

— Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury

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