Citizen group successful getting Smith's Bridge '2nd opinion'

Courtesy photoFerrysburg City Councilman Rich Carlson and City Manager Craig Bessinger accept a $1,200 check from a grassroots citizen committee dedicated to saving Smith’s Bridge. The money paid for a “second opinion” on the bridge’s condition. Results of the that engineering study are expected by the end of this month.

FERRYSBURG — The Citizens to Save Smith’s Bridge grassroots organization has raised enough for a “second opinion” inspection of the bridge.

Results of the inspection are expected by the end of the month, with a public forum scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 10 at Ferrysburg City Hall to discuss the findings.

After years of deterioration, engineering inspections, and accelerated deterioration over the winter, City Council voted to close the bridge earlier this summer due to safety concerns.

Estimated replacement cost is $13 million.

Residents at a recent City Council meeting requested a second engineering opinion, but when it became clear the City wouldn’t spring for it, volunteered to pay for it themselves.

“It was mostly small donations, all $200 or less,” said Save Smith’s Bridge member Jake Stearley.

Members of the grassroots group presented the $1,200 check to City Manager Craig Bessinger.

The City has used Williams & Works engineering firm for past inspections. For the second opinion, Bessinger hired Fleis & Vandenbrink. Members of the engineering firm will be present at the Sept. 10 forum to answer questions about the study.

“I wouldn’t expect to see anything before the end of the month,” Bessinger said. “They’re going to send me a report. We’ll have to see what the inspection report says then we’ll take it from there.”

Bessinger said he will post the study findings on the City’s web site as soon as they become available.

Stearley said he is anxiously awaiting the results, hoping for good news.

“Personally, I’m hoping that the bridge can be repaired so it can be used to bide time while we properly prepare to replace it,” Stearley said. “If it can’t be repaired, even if the bridge can be replaced, we’re looking at a minimum five years before it’s used again.”

Stearley said he fears that the more time passes, the more motorists will grow used to detouring and won’t recognize the importance of replacing the bridge.

“I think the bridge will become less important to people as time goes by,” he said. “If people now have a taste of what it’s like to not have the bridge, and we can reopen it, I think as a community we’ll be a little more motivated to find a solution for this. The hope is it can be repaired. If it can’t be repaired, a lot of money needs to be raised to get it back to where it can be used again.”

Stearley said his group of six members “felt compelled” to ask for a second opinion after the bridge closed.

“You expect local government to upkeep basic infrastructure in your community,” he said. “I feel not having the bridge open fractures the community in two. I feel there’s a north and south Ferrysburg. I feel there’s less cohesiveness in our community.”

Emergency response vehicle times are also increased due to the detour, he noted.

“The (bridge) closing happened so quickly,” Stearley said. “We feel that decision was made in haste and there wasn’t a lot of consideration given to what the fallout would be. Time in emergency minutes can be vital.”

Like many people, Stearley said he uses the bridge “countless” times a day.

“I do not go into Ferrysburg for small business things anymore,” he said. “I don’t go there to fill my gas tank like I used to. I don’t go to the post office. I don’t go to Spring Lake as often, either. I get to 31 and go to Grand Haven or go to Norton Shores. That’s how it’s affecting me, but it’s me times thousands of people that’s affecting local businesses.”

Stearley said the closure not only affects Ferrysburg residents, it hinders the entire community.

“We’re interested in other people joining our effort, especially from outside of Ferrysburg,” he said. “This is a community issue and not just a Ferrysburg issue.”

City officials have applied for numerous state and federal grants in recent years, but so far have come up empty handed.

Voters defeated a Smith’s Bridge millage proposal in November 2017 and council last month opted not to put a millage proposal on the Nov. 5 ballot.

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