The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported this morning that a deadline to work out a deal to save the abandoned U.S. 79 bridge at Clarendon had passed with no deal between preservationists and the state. It was no surprise.
Preservationists sued to stop the planned demolition, hoping to save the bridge for use as a bike/hike trail and tourist attraction. The state has resisted and Judge Chris Piazza said Wednesday, according to the D-G, that he could not overcome the now ironclad rule of sovereign immunity to order the state to do otherwise.
There was resistance from the federal Fish and Wildlife Service. As I wrote in June 2016, when a federal judge refused to enjoin plans to take down the bridge:
The outcome was inevitable, despite long lobbying efforts to preserve the span that included a trip to Washington by Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Heritage Department Director Stacy Hurst. The state had entered an ironclad agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the span as part of an agreement on construction of a new Highway 79 bridge that does not disturb natural water flow through the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, as portions of the old bridge do.
An additional likely roadblock to preservation of the bridge was money to continue maintenance of the old structure should it be preserved.
Absent an unseen miracle, the Highway Department likely will soon restart the bidding process for demolition.
John Gill, the lawyer for the preservation forces, doesn’t seem likely to quit just yet and suggests dark motives in a failure to get a meeting with federal officials on the issue. But I’ve been told for years that restoration of the Cache refuge to its natural flow — which the new bridge and destruction of the old will help — is a priority that can’t be worked around.