Once stormy waters, now calm under Katy Bridge (Part 2)

Editor's Note-This is the second part of a two part series. To read the first part of the series, please see the Thursday Edition of the Boonville Daily News. Once Attorney General Jay Nixon sued the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Executive Director of the Katy Bridge Coalition Paula Shannon said it gave them time to tell more people about the bridge and to spend the time needed on matters that would eventually secure the bridge for the city of Boonville. "The lawsuit actually was about jurisdiction between DNR and the Attorney General, which had nothing to do with the coalition," President of the Katy Bridge Coalition Sarah Gallagher said.  Shannon said Hardesty and Hanover, an engineering firm in New York, heard about the bridge and traveled to Boonville to offer their expertise. They also provided a cost estimate of how much it would cost to rehabilitate the bridge. Gallagher and Shannon remember the times they would take signs saying, 'save our bridge' out to the highway bridge at the height of traffic. And as more people saw what was going on, more people pledged their support. A turning point came when Jay Nixon ran for governor. "Jay Nixon getting elected governor was a huge turning point for us. He worked behind the scenes on this matter as well," Gallagher said. "Some of his platform of running for governor was based on the idea of saving the bridge. He believed it needed to be preserved," Shannon said. Up until 2010 many things had worked in the favor of the coalition. The coalition was able to educate the public as time progressed.  "We kept reminding Union Pacific that we were not giving up," Shannon said. Support came as far as Europe. Gallagher said people from all over the world are following their progress. Shannon remembers individuals who were following the Santa Fe Trail. She said when they got to Boonville, they were anxious about coming back when the bridge would be ready for pedestrians. While the coalition fought to save the bridge, they were also coming up with a detailed plan to revitalize the bridge. Boonville is not unique in wanting to use a bridge for tourism. Shannon and a group of individuals traveled around the country seeing how other communities have revitalized their own bridges. Upon a trip to Little Rock Arkansas Shannon and the group got to see how that city used bridges as walkways and bike trails. Shannon said the city was also revitalizing a bridge while they were there and they got to see how they were doing those things. She also said when an individual could walk across one bridge and come back on another it increased usage because people were not just going back and forth on one bridge, which made it more appealing for an individual. Shannon said Boonville has this exact opportunity. She explained that an individual could walk across the Katy Bridge and come back via the highway bridge and make one large circle. "The more we figured out how more communities did these projects, it built confidence in ourselves that this could be done," Shannon said. Shannon also said someone contacted her and said there were eagles nesting on the bridge. At that time eagles were on the endangered species list and were protected, which would have given the bridge another reason for saving. Upon closer inspection, eagles were indeed flying around the bridge but they were nesting in the trees along the river near the bridge. Although it was disappointing the bridge was not indeed a nesting grounds an opportunity opened in regards to eagle watching. This would provide a good way to see the eagles close up. The largest turning point in the story came in February 2010 when Governor Nixon announced the bridge would be saved. The hard work had paid off. A press conference was held at the Katy Depot, which included a speech from the governor. "There is something about a good cause that resonates in an area," Gallagher said. Even though the bridge was officially saved there was still plenty to do. For the last two years, the coalition, the city of Boonville and Union Pacific have been ironing out an agreement on the bridge. Gallagher said Boonville City Administrator Irl Tessendorf along with city attorney Megan McGuire have worked tirelessly getting an agreement made and passed. "Irl saw the vision," Gallagher said. Shannon said Tessendorf was able to work with the city council and coalition and come up with a workable agreement for both parties. McGuire said at the January 7 city council meeting that every lawyer should have the opportunity to work on a project such as this. Shannon said since they went through four city councils, they had to educate them on the bridge each time. On the January 7 city council meeting a vote of 7-1 secured the ownership of the bridge. Although the city owns the bridge, the financial responsibility will be upon the coalition. Two matching grants will be received. "The first grant will be used for phase one of the redevelopment of the bridge which will include $430,000 with a 20 percent match. The Katy Bridge Redevelopment fund will cover the 20 percent match. This fund was created as part of the foundation with the city council. Another piece of the match will come from the collation themselves. We have applied for tax credits as well,"Special Projects Assistant Kate Fjell said. She said this will cover the entire cost of phase one, which will replace the missing span on the south side of the bridge. "The second grant was part of a Main Street connection grant, which will connect Main Street with our tourism hub along Spring Street. It will be all ADA accessible. We will extend our historical lighting all the way down, make more bike lanes and cross walks," Fjell said. Fjell estimates the entire project will cost 3.5 to 4 million dollars. As the final chapter closes in the first book, a new sequel is beginning. "This is a story about how our community persevered," Gallagher said. "The elements of the story are not nearly as important as the lessons that it teaches. You have to stick with something and the people have to be dedicated. We did not have that problem. Everyone that stepped forward were dedicated through the entire time." Gallagher said it may be a while before the true scope of the project will be realized but has no doubt this will benefit the entire state to come. Shannon explained that it was a state, town and coalition effort, which saved the crown jewell of the Katy Trail.