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Rubble removal may close bridge

The Clearwater Pass Bridge soon may be closed for as long as two weeks while diving crews remove concrete and rock rubble that has settled into the mud where new pilings need to go.

Commissioners will vote tonight on whether to close the 28-year-old bridge and pay the $34,442 to correct the problem, which must be done to replace three pilings, said Assistant Public Works Director Cecil Henderson.

"It's important that this be done right away," Henderson said. "We're asking for approval to go ahead and remove the rock so we can drive the pilings. We're under construction and we need to get this rock out of the way before we can continue."

The construction needs to continue to ensure structural stability on the bridge until a new bridge can be built, he said.

A new bridge will not be completed until early 1996 if there are no more delays in the permitting process, so the city must keep the current bridge safe and operational through then.

If commissioners approve the request, the bridge will close Feb. 28 and remain closed for approximately two weeks, Henderson said.

"With heavy emphasis on approximately," he said. "We'll know better when we get started."

The amount of time it will take will depend a lot on the weather and the tides, he said.

The rubble, which is mostly large rocks and concrete blocks, was placed around pilings 20 years ago in an effort to prevent or slow down the erosion that was taking place, he said.

Since then, some of the rubble has shifted and settled 4 to 5 feet into the mud in places where replacement pilings need to go.

And since the pilings cannot be driven through the rubble, it must be removed, Henderson said.

City Manager Michael Wright said Wednesday that he was going to ask the city's engineers how expensive it would be and if it would be feasible for the contractors to work overtime to get the work done as fast as possible.

"Usually, though, you can only work under water so long," he said.

The bridge has meant nothing but headaches for city officials and closing the bridge for two weeks during peak tourist season is no picnic, they say.

"Yes, isn't it wonderful," Wright said, sarcastically.

The city has plans to build a 74-foot-high fixed-span bridge to replace the drawbridge, but it has been delayed because of angry boaters who complain that, with the bridge at that height, some boats won't be able to get through the pass.

City officials say they feel confident the bridge will get all the necessary permits, especially since they raised the span from their original 65-foot-high plan.

According to the state Department of Transportation's (DOT) latest five-year plan, the state will contribute about $17-million to build the new span, but the city must put up about $2-million.

The commission meets at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 112 S Osceola Ave.

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