A Santa Rosa Commissioner’s rather large garbage picking treasure is raising questions about government disposition of historic artifacts.
Milton resident and frequent commission commenter Jerry Couey challenged District 2 Commissioner Bob Cole about the presence of old county bridge parts on his property at Monday’s Committee meeting.
Parts of a bridge that Cole pushed to get additional funding for to have historical elements added to.
Marquis Bayou Bridge is undergoing a total replacement, including the handrails. The bridge connects Milton to East Milton, in Cole’s district.
The new bridge ended up costing taxpayers almost $1 million more than originally planned, due to added historic design factors Cole pushed for. One of those historical aspects was the bridge’s hand rails. A resident spotted the bridge’s old handrails on Cole’s property recently and questioned why the commissioner had the historical item on his property and how it got there.
The original construction cost for the bridge was projected at $3.5 million; but the historical design rework added $850K.
The rest of the overage mostly went towards a temporary bridge that was necessary because the historically-oriented design called for the new span to built on the old one’s footprint instead of farther south.
Cole worked closely with the Santa Rosa Historical Society and Main Street Milton to effect the historically-oriented redesign.
The bridge was a 1936 Works Progress Administration project and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, per the Department of Transportation.
“In recognition of the historic nature of the bridge, every effort will be made to preserve the distinctive Marquis Bayou Bridge railing and reuse it as part of the pedestrian walkway rail for the new bridge,” according to Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) project information.
Cole affirmed that the bridge handrails pictured in a photo provided by Couey were from the Marquis Bayou project. He said he did not pay for them, or for delivery by FDOT bridge contractor Superior Construction.
They’re parts of the old bridge that were scrapped,” Cole said. “They’re all sitting in a pit at the end of Hickory Hammock Road.”
Couey questioned why the parts were scrapped instead of sold off.
“It’s a historical bridge of historical significance,” Couey noted. “Someone decided not to use a state required bid process as required in the State of Florida for all surplus items and somehow they wound up on your property.”
FDOT officials are pleading ignorance.
“Once a contractor takes control of a work site, the contractor assumes control of all construction materials and is responsible for the removal and proper disposal of all debris from the site,” spokesman Ian Satter said in an email.
“The bridge materials in question were to be disposed of by the contractor because they could not be re-purposed. The contractor was approached regarding the materials and came to an agreement to place the unusable material at the commissioner’s home. I am unaware of any fee paid for the materials, that would be between the contractor and the person requesting the materials.”
Neither Superior Construction nor FDOT had information on why the pieces were deemed unusable. South Santa Rosa News has requested a technical report from FDOT.
Cole says there’s still “about 20 more of them” in the disposal site.
“I would like to see all records associated with how we determined historic bridge sections became trash,” Couey remarked.
The $6,523,192.34 project, which covers a half mile including the bridge, broke ground in September 2013, and was slated for completion last fall, per FDOT.