Those landowners living closest to the ford want a high-water bridge constructed in an effort to reduce, or completely eliminate what they call lewd, drunken and drugged behavior associated with easy access to the crossing connecting Bowen Cemetery Road up to Mt. Pleasant Road in the southeastern corner of the southwestern bootheel portion of Gasconade County.
Members of the Robert Gorrell, Sr., family all expressed approval for the county to construct an elevated bridge. There is technically no public access ground at the crossing. Yet, with a designated county road crossing through the river, swimmers have easy access to the site, day and night.
If commissioners approve construction of a bridge, the approaches on either side would, local landowners hope, reduce immediate access to the river. As proposed, the estimated $650,000, 3-span bridge would straighten out the roadway and have corresponding elevated approaches between high points on either side of the river.
Preliminary designs show the space between spans as 90 feet long. Pylons would not interfere with normal river flow, said Jerry Lairmore, southern district commissioner who has been working on the project for more than 10 years.
The county currently has a total of $502,256 in combined county funding ($74,404) and federal BRO (Bridge Replacement Off System) money ($427,851) available for the project. The county has spent around $26,000 in engineering on the project to date. The county is eligible for BRO money, a reimbursement of locally generate taxes from the state-administered program specifically for bridge projects, in annual allotments, said County Clerk Lesa Lietzow. The figure cited above was BRO funding available as of September 2012.
Lairmore agreed with Larry Miskel, northern district commissioner, that any thought of a low-water crossing, a slab, “
“won’t happen for years” considering the estimate cost of $280,000 to $350,000. State and federal funding is not available for slab projects, said Lairmore.
“This is money that’s been directly obligated to Gasconade County to help its people,” said Lairmore after nearby resident Randy Hudson voiced opposition for the need for a bridge (a letter from Hudson appears on page 2 this week). “If you can build a bridge that’s passable all the time, that’s the smart thing to do.”
Unfortunately, river-goers have turned the site into a late-night party spot. Vulgarities have been spray-painted on the rock bluff. Trash is strewed about on the river banks and into the fence-lines and fields adjacent to the swimming hole. A used disposable diaper was disposed of within five feet of the waterline.
More than 40 area residents attended the commission’s public town hall meeting held at the Gasconade Valley Baptist Bible Camp’s community center. Nick Baxter, appointed last November as presiding commissioner by Gov. Jay Nixon, has opposed the bridge project since announcing his candidacy to replace Ron Jost who died in office. Baxter cited concerns about future maintenance costs. He called the project potential “white elephant.”
“I don’t see it as a white elephant,” Lairmore countered. “I consider it a benefit to Gasconade County.”
For less than $50,000 in additional county funds, the county can have a $650,000 bridge. “I still think it’s a great bargain,” said Lairmore noting the county has obtained $1.2 million in BRO funds since 1996.
Baxter pointed out BRO funds were “not free money. It’s tax money. Let’s don’t throw the word ‘free’ around. It’s tax money.”
Baxter had said publicly he intended to hold a “straw poll” vote of those attending the meeting. None was ever taken as the meeting ended with a somewhat heated discussion between several local residents on how best to proceed.
What was clear earlier, however, was residents immediately on both sides of the river have deep concerns for public safety either for themselves from the disruptive behavior exhibited at the river crossing or for those attempting to cross the ford at dangerous water levels. Several area residents also expressed their strong desire to have a bridge installed to allow for better emergency services to residents on either side of the river located near Redbird community.
Lairmore is expected to miss Thursday’s regularly scheduled meeting due to foot surgery he had today (Wednesday). The commission could take up the issue for a final vote as early as March 21 in Hermann.
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