Save the historic Big White River Bridge!
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What We're Trying To Do and Why: The Friends of the Historic White River Bridge at Clarendon is a 501(c)3 non-profit that came together in 2014 around the cause of saving the historic Big White River Bridge for two reasons:
- It is a national treasure (listed on the National Register of Historic Places maintained by the U.S. Department of Interior), a gorgeous landmark worthy of preservation (see video)
- It will play a vital role as part of a larger effort to develop outdoor and eco-tourism in the Arkansas Delta, a region that is simultaneously one of the most beautiful and the most poor in the United States.
Specifically, our mission is to adapt the historic bridge for use by cyclists, hikers, pedestrians, and wildlife / bird watchers, so that it can serve as a vehicle for tourism-based economic development in the Arkansas Delta.
If successful, the converted bridge will be one of the longest and most scenic pedestrian and cycling bridges in the United States, as well as one of the longest elevated bird viewing platforms in the world, complete with spectacular viewing afforded by the Mississippi Flyway of migratory birds which hourglasses to its narrowest point in this area.
What We've Done So Far: With the Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department on the verge of letting bids to demolish the bridge (in fulfillment of an agreement made with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that enabled them to build the vehicle bridge that replaced the historic bridge), the Friends of the White River Bridge filed suit.
What We're Asking: All we are asking is that these agencies conduct the proper studies and analyses to ascertain whether the destruction of this magnificent landmark serves a greater good or would be a tragic mistake based on outdated and/or incomplete information. [See "The Details" section at the very bottom if you want the full scoop]
Specifically, we are petitioning the following agencies to take the following actions to ensure this vital decision is made with the best possible information in hand:
ITEM 1: Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department (AHTD): Commit to the preservation of the entirety of the historic White River Bridge (per the provisions of USC Title 23, Chapter 1, Section 144(g) and the Arkansas Historic Bridge program) – including the still extant western and eastern approaches – should either of the following occur:
AHTD is relieved of its obligation to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to demolish the bridge, OR...
AHTD learns after conducting the proper study on the impact of the demolition of the bridge on bicycling that a sufficiently negative impact will result
ITEM 2: Cache River National Wildlife Refuge / U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: Commit to release AHTD of its obligation to the demolish the historic White River Bridge should either of the following occur:
An updated hydrological study reveals that the demolition of the historic Bridge is not ecologically necessary, OR...
It is determined by a proper study and analysis that the demolition and removal of the historic Bridge may negatively affect the threatened Rabbitsfoot mussel or its designated critical habitat
Bottom Line: Given the tremendous enthusiasm for saving the historic bridge, the irreparable harm that would come from its destruction, the enormous potential upside to the region if the bridge is adapted as planned, and the lack of any urgent need to demolish the bridge, we ask that the relevant agencies simply take their time, conduct the proper studies with an open mind, and make every reasonable effort to accommodate those who wish to preserve this magnificent structure and enable it to enrich the lives of all who encounter it.
OPTIONAL READING: The Details: The basis of our case is built on three arguments, all of which have merit:
Change of Circumstances: Hydrology – The argument for removing the bridge is primarily based on an outdated and obsolete hydrology study conducted in 2003. As part of construction on the new bridge, a lengthy berm (which was highlighted in the original study as the primary cause of water flow concerns) was removed. Our position is that the removal of the berm has created such a substantial change in water flows that a new hydrology study is required. If the problems that demolishing the bridge were intended to solve have already been solved, there's no reason to move forward. The U.S. Geological Survey, who did the original hydrology study, has indicated that a new study would make sense.
Change of Circumstances: Endangered Species – The Rabbitsfoot mussel, which occupies the White River, was listed as a threatened species in 2013. In 2015, the area in the vicinity of the historic bridge was designated as critical habitat for the Rabbitsfoot mussel. When the plans were originally made to demolish the historic bridge after constructing the new one, these environmental issues were not considered. A quick subsequent study was done, but it is our contention that this study was inadequate.
Violation of State Law: Impact on Bicycling Was Not Considered – Ten years ago when the Highway Department considered alternatives to tearing the bridge down, it never considered the impact on bicycles even though Arkansas law required it to do so. So not only should this obligation be fulfilled, but given the growth in bicycling regionally and nationally, revisiting this crucial obligation is simply the right thing to do.
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