Pennington County commissioners are considering how to deal with a collapsed bridge in the eastern part of the county.
During their meeting Tuesday in the County Administration Building, the Board of Commissioners decided to continue their discussion on whether to install a temporary bridge or improve what is now called a minimum-maintenance road near the bridge.
Board members voted unanimously, with Commissioner Mark DiSanto absent, to continue the discussion after deciding they wanted to visit and inspect the area.
The bridge spans Box Elder Creek on 164th Avenue, about 5 miles east of New Underwood. It collapsed March 22 when ice chunks floating down the swollen creek collided with the bridge's center support beams.
Following the bridge's collapse, county Highway Superintendent Joseph Miller told commissioners the department looked over each of the county's 128 bridges, many of which he said are about 50 years old and "in dire need of some upkeep and revamping."
Landowners to the south of Box Elder Creek can now only access their property via a road that runs east-west about half a mile south of the flood-damaged bridge.
That road was referred to alternately as 230th Street or simply "the section line" at Tuesday's meeting (Google Maps also names it Bruns Road).
Nearby landowners said their property is now nearly inaccessible. The section line, they said, is a minimum-maintenance road that turns into "gumbo" when wet and is nearly impassable for any vehicle. Even when passable, it's still out of the way for livestock owners who live just on the north side of the bridge.
Miller said a permanent bridge replacement will likely take at least two years to build and cost between $500,000 and $800,000. In the meantime, he presented two options for commissioners to consider.
The county could install a temporary bridge, which a contractor estimated would cost $30,000, plus a monthly lease yet to be determined.
Alternately, Miller suggested improving the road along the section line, describing it as the most cost-effective measure and "in the best interest of the county."
Nearby residents and landowners seemed to favor the temporary bridge option.
Two ranchers said living on the north side of the bridge but owning livestock on the south side means they drive approximately 10 miles out of the way to get to their land. They said they can cross the creek at times, but that's been difficult this spring when the water runs high.
"There’s options, but they’re not good options," Zane Brink, who owns land on both sides of the bridge, told commissioners. "If this bridge is not built, it’s going to cause some hardship on me."
A neighbor who also raises cattle said he typically crosses the bridge eight to 10 times a day from his house to where his cattle are calving. He said that adds about 160 miles of driving each day.
A couple said they planned to move into their house this week. Now, they can't access their property, which is just south of the bridge. They own pigeons, which also need to be fed.
"And there’s no way for us to get in there. So, I am just asking you to help us," a woman said.
Residents also said the restricted access limits the ability of emergency personnel and public safety officials to respond quickly in case of a wildfire or other emergency. One man who said his family has lived in the area along 230th Street for more than 100 years added that he doesn't want the section line improved.
"This bridge should have been replaced prior to its failure," Brink said.
According to the Pennington County Highway Department, the 66-foot-long bridge on 164th Avenue is a three-span timber beam bridge, meaning it is made of treated lumber. It was built in 1949.
The most recent inspection in September 2018 outlined varying degrees of decay to the bridge's "piles," the poles that connect it to the ground below. According to the inspection report, all piles on the backwalls were becoming "moderately weathered with check cracking and advancing decay on several piles."
Speaker forms OK’d
The board unanimously approved the use of a request form for members of the public who wish to speak at county commission meetings.
Commissioner Lloyd LaCroix brought two versions of the form, one suggesting a 3-minute time limit and one with no set time limit.
Deb Hadcock, commission chair, said she preferred to leave off the time limit. Commissioner Ron Rossknecht agreed. The commissioners voted to approve the form with no set time limit, but with a sentence saying, "the Board may limit the time allowed for each speaker."
Members of the public now will be asked to fill out a short form identifying the agenda item on they wish to speak on. They can also write in something they'd like to talk about if it's not an agenda item. County staff will collect the forms and give them to whomever is running the meeting, which is typically commission chair Hadcock or vice chair Gary Drewes.
LaCroix and Hadcock advocated for the forms to add structure to the meetings and to ensure no one who wants to address the board is overlooked.
The forms will be used starting at the board's next regular meeting, scheduled for April 16.