The fate of the Crescent Street bridge rests, for now, on whether the city of Flandreau is successful in getting a grant to demolish it.
The city council voted unanimously in a special meeting May 11 to apply for the demolition grant and focus on replacing the bridge with a less-expensive walking bridge. The replacement would also be eligible for a grant.
City Administrator Jeff Pederson said a study done by the city shows that renovating the bridge would be more than 60 percent of the cost of building a new one for vehicle traffic, a statistic that makes it ineligible for a replacement grant from the South Dakota Department of Transportation.
The cost to replace the bridge for vehicle traffic is $3.15 million, while the cost to renovate is $1.99 million. Demolition would cost between $100,000-$350,000, estimates show. A steel recreation bridge to replace the existing bridge is projected to cost $250,000.
A bridge replacement grant application has a June 1 deadline, and the grant to pay for demolishing the bridge is due in July.
Alderman Brad Bjerke said something needs to be done with the structure because it is a liability. People walk on the bridge even though it is closed. The city needs to apply for demolition, he said.
“Even the rebuilding of it is not just improbable but impossible,” he said, adding that the option costs too much. “It will never be a vehicle bridge there.”
That potential grant money, which would require some match from the city, may not always be available, council members said, supporting the demolition grant application now.
“This is kind of a unique position we’re in,” Pederson said. “You don’t have to make a decision to do anything, but you now have an opportunity, and you have some real cost estimates to base those decisions on.”
If nothing is done with the bridge, it will continue to deteriorate, he said.
The bridge, built in 1935, has been closed since 2014 because it is unsafe for vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Before it was closed, it was a direct route from downtown to the Flandreau Indian School campus, one of the larger employers in the community and home to more than 200 high school students at the boarding school.
Emily Pieper, who is running for mayor, said the bridge’s rich history deserves to be preserved, and she opposed tearing it down. She urged the council to take its time and look at more options, before rushing into the grant.
“I ask that this be delayed to let the people speak,” she said. “It’ll still be something to deal with in a year from now.”
She also said the city should do a hydraulic study so it has all of the information it needs before making a decision.
Elizabeth Wakeman said the city should consult others in the community who are stakeholders in the bridge, including FIS and the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, about resources and ideas that might be options rather than demolishing the bridge.
“That bridge is historic. I would not like to see it demoed,” she said.
Mike Fargen, who will replace Dan Sutton on the council, asked why the bridge couldn’t be made into a pedestrian bridge now, without taking it down. There could be 20 more years of life in it, he said.
Mayor Mark Bonrud said the engineer won’t even recommend it be a pedestrian bridge at this point because it is too dilapidated.
Alderman Jason Unruh said if Flandreau makes the investment, it needs to be for more than 20 years.
“I think this bridge is too big of a feature for this town that has just been wasted,” he said.
“If we don’t have these funds, I don’t see this project ever moving forward. We’ve got one opportunity,” he said, agreeing that the bridge should be replaced with a pedestrian bridge. “I want to see traffic, even if it were foot traffic. … This is an opportunity to do that and to connect two communities that I don’t think do as well on their own as together.”
Sutton, who also is running for mayor, said he wants the bridge removal and replacement, with a walking bridge, to be part of an overall plan to improve that area of the river for recreation.
“My thing is that whole area down there is a jewel, a gem, a treasure in the rough,” he said.
The issue first came up in February when Pederson presented the bridge as a priority for its capital improvement projects. In his proposal, he provided alternatives, including taking out the bridge and installing a steel pedestrian bridge for people to have access to both sides of the Big Sioux River.
Pederson said information has been prepared and action of some kind needs to be taken on an issue that has been ignored for years.
“It was a lot of information pulled together in a short time so this council could make a decision based on the full range of alternatives,” he said after the meeting.
In other council business,
•The council members heard the first reading of an ordinance that will increase the fine for those who violate the city’s property maintenance code from $200 to $500 per instance. The charge for violating the code is a misdemeanor, which gives the option of up to 30 days in jail, instead of a fine.
The council voted to remove a portion of the ordinance that recommends adoption of the International Property Maintenance Code, until the council can discuss what parts of that code wouldn’t apply to Flandreau. But they kept the part of the ordinance that more clearly defines what an inoperable vehicle is and allows it to be on a property only up to 48 hours, unless it is inside a structure.
The ordinance changes follow the recommendations of a task force that reviewed the city’s rules on inoperable vehicles, building conditions and junk in yards. The city also has hired a code enforcer who will look at the properties in town and start the process of having residents come into compliance.