A PARK WATCH COMMENTARY: BRIDGE DEBRIS TO BE MOVED
The following three items are about the removing of the I-35W wreckage from Bohemian Flats. What is interesting about the three articles is the inconsistencies (highlighted in red) regarding the lost revenues. What is even more interesting is the fact that no documentation for the losses has come before the Park Board; and no documentation has been provided in response to Park Watch’s Data Requests for the excursion boats’ “outstanding payment issues.”
The following Fox 9 item was reported on August 20, 2010:
35W BRIDGE WRECKAGE CAN BE MOVED FROM BOHEMIAN FLATS
MINNEAPOLIS – The state now has permission to move the steel wreckage from the collapsed Interstate 35W Bridge out of the Bohemian Flats park along the Mississippi River.
The twisted steel girders have been stored at the park for more than a year. They couldn’t be moved because they were still considered evidence in lawsuits against the companies involved with the bridge’s design, inspections and repairs.
But park officials complained that the wreckage was costing them about $60,000 in lost revenue each year. The park is a popular site for canoe launches.
A Minnesota Department of Transportation spokesman tells the Minneapolis Star Tribune a court has granted the state permission to cut the wreckage into moveable pieces and store it in Afton.
The 35W bridge collapsed three years ago, killing 13 people.
The following story was reported by WCCO-TV’s Maya Nishikawa on August 20, 2010.
THREE YEARS AFTER COLLAPSE, BRIDGE DEBRIS TO BE MOVED
The Minnesota Department of Transportation finally has the green light to start removing the last of the debris from the Interstate 35W bridge collapse. For almost three years, the metal pieces have been in Bohemian Flats Park along the river.
All the steel there once spanned the two piers of the I-35W Bridge. It has taken a long time to move the bridge debris because it’s still considered evidence for continuing litigation. The steel will be saved and stored, but soon it will be out of out of a valuable public park and the public view.
There’s also relief for those see the debris and remember tragedy. For Andy Gannon, seeing the twisted metal brings back the night on the I-35W Bridge he never thought he would survive.
“The fact that it sits close by to where it actually fell, you can’t go by anywhere near there without seeing it and kind of bringing it back to what happened,” he said.
From Gannon’s perspective, knowing the debris is finally going to be taken away brings the last bit of closure.
“It’s never over, but the fact that it’s gone will take a little of the memory away from it,” he said.
For almost three years, MnDOT has not been able to move the metal for fear of being sued.
“We’re being kind of at a place where we can’t move it because to move it we needed to cut it, and if we cut it we’re damaging evidence, and if we damage evidence we’re liable for damaging that evidence,” said Kevin Gutknecht, Communications Director for MnDOT.
Since all parties involved the lawsuits came to an agreement, the debris can go into MnDOT’s storage in Afton. The plan is to cut the pieces and move them with flatbed trucks. The removal means the prime parkland will be open again.
Scott Vreeland is a commissioner for the Minneapolis Park Board. He’s anxious to open the gates and let people enjoy the park again.
“This really took everyone working together to stipulate that even though there’s unfinished things that still need to go through a legal process, that they said, ‘OK, it’s time, we can move these bridge pieces and have this open for the park,” commented Vreeland.
Minneapolis Parks and Recreation lost thousands of dollars in revenue each year Bohemian Flats was closed.
Now, there are plans to begin improving the park, which is something that’s been on hold for the past three years.
It may be a week or two before it is announced when the removal will begin. Moving the pieces is expected to take two to three weeks.
The following article by Alex Ebert and Paul Walsh was published in the Star Tribune on August 19, 2010:
I-35W BRIDGE DEBRIS TO BE MOVED
The twisted steel from the collapse of the Interstate 35W Bridge will soon be moved from the riverside park that has been largely fenced off and closed during the investigation and reconstruction of the failed structure.
The state now has permission to cut the wreckage into movable pieces and store it in Afton, said Kevin Gutknecht, communications director for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
“It’s great news,” said Scott Vreeland, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board commissioner. The board allowed MnDOT to store the material on park land temporarily. But the board sued the Transportation Department in 2009 because it was missing out on thousands of dollars in revenue annually while the park land was closed off.
The girders have rested on land known as the Bohemian Flats along the Mississippi River’s west bank since shortly after the collapse in August 2007.
Originally the court said MnDOT could move the wreckage, but it wasn’t willing to order legal protection from further lawsuits if any of the girders — still considered evidence — were damaged in the process.
Now an agreement between all parties says that the state will be protected legally from any damage claims. MnDOT is working out a plan for how to haul the hunks of steel, Gutknecht said. The process will take a “couple of weeks,” he added. It probably will involve cutting some pieces to make them easier to transport.
Vreeland said moving the debris is what’s best for the victims and for the Park Board.
“This [debris] is just a sad reminder of a terrible tragedy,” he said. “Folks want to know why it’s been there so long and will it ever go away,” he said. “I think it would be advantageous to get rid of the wreckage and honor people in a way that isn’t so visually disturbing.”
Keeping the mangled steel on the 7-acre park parcel has cost the park system annual revenue of about $16,000 from paid parking, and another $20,000 annually that a tour boat company would have paid to operate from there.
The park system has been awarded federal grants totaling $470,000 to erect a picnic shelter and restroom at the site.
Jim Schwebel, an attorney who represents bridge collapse victims, said that there has been a “waxing, declining need” to keep the steel on the flats.
“Obviously a lot of people got tired of looking at it for so long,” he said.