A tentative agreement between landowner Wayne Keller and Ford County will save the Mulberry Creek bridge on Valley Road and spare the county a lawsuit.
After a nearly five year battle over the Mulberry Creek Bridge and the land owner most directly affected by its dilapidation, Ford County and Wayne Keller have come to a tentative mutually agreeable solution.
The county presumably made the decision in a closed door session with the county's legal counselor at its regular meeting, Monday, as the commissioners were made aware of the impending lawsuit from Keller if the county proceeded with plans to demolish the bridge and install a low water crossing.
Keller could not be reached for comment following the decision by the Commission.
"If they come to the table and say they'll do something different, then we can talk," Keller told the Globe, Friday. If the County Commission had approved an agreement with the Corp of Engineers and the state's historical preservation society, as originally expected at the regular meeting, Monday, it would have set the irreversible wheels of the bureaucracy in motion, eventually demolishing the bridge and leaving behind a sign.
Keller has been without mail service to his property for roughly two years, he said.
During the public comments section of the meeting, resident Vernon Bogart told the Commission they needed to seek options other than demolition.
"I don't speak directly to the bridge, but I speak to the history of Dodge City and some of the remnants of that history. If it's going to take some money to save it or preserve it, I think it would behoove us as tax payers to do something with that structure other than putting it in a scrap pile.
"A lot of our history is disappearing."
"Not that we need to save everything, but we need to … keep our past alive because we learn from the past to live in the future," Bogart said.
Keller did not speak during the open comments portion of the meeting.
The bridge decision was moved to the end of the Commission's agenda after an executive session held under attorney-client privilege. During that session, Keller said he had no idea which way it would go. By tabling the agreement, the county sent a signal to Keller that it was willing to deal.
The county expects Keller to bring an agreement to the Commission in the coming weeks, County Administrator Ed Elam confirmed. In it, Keller would buy the bridge for a nominal fee and the county would vacate the road, leaving it to Keller and other affected residents to maintain.
In order for the county to abandon the road, the plan would need to survive a public comment period.
To date, Keller said he has spent more than $20,000 saving the bridge, which not only provides access to his land, but was Dodge City's second bridge and oldest standing. Originally the bridge spanned the Arkansas River on Second Avenue, replacing the original 1873 wooden toll bridge when it was commissioned in 1906. The bridge is a steel Pratt Truss bridge, one of a few in the state.
All six spans of the bridge were moved to the Coronado Road crossing of the river in 1935, where it stood until 1958. Since then, the bridge has been sectioned with two of the spans crossing Mulberry Creek on Valley Road.
The county had been taking steps in past years to prepare the bridge for demolition based on the state's requirements for removing a historical structure. In following one of those requirements, the county sought a bidder to relocate the bridge, but did not receive any offers.
The Commission will ultimately have to vote on an agreement with Keller, but for the time, the county has avoided a potentially costly lawsuit with the determined preservationist and landowner.