Debate plagues Mauthe Bridge restoration project


By JESSICA HARDIN

jhardin@vindy.com

POLAND

Nearly seven months after the Poland Municipal Forest’s Mauthe Bridge was closed for repairs, debate still plagues the project’s next steps.

The issue will be discussed further at the forest board meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at village hall.

In an initial review July 27, MS Consultants of Youngstown recommended the closure of the bridge, which was built in 1956.

Orange safety fencing and signs indicating the closure were quickly removed and destroyed.

Although the bridge’s closure has been the subject of council and forest board meeting discussions since summer, residents continue to use the pedestrian suspension bridge that connects the parts of the forest divided by Yellow Creek.

MS Consultants conducted a more comprehensive evaluation, costing the village $1,300, in which it determined the bridge’s steel towers and anchorage points could be reused. The decking and cabling, however, must be replaced.

Amid disagreement regarding the lack of designers, council appointed MS Consultants to design the Mauthe Bridge restoration at its Feb. 5 meeting.

Councilwoman Martha Morgan, who voted against the motion, feared the forest board did not do its due diligence in receiving only one bid for the design project.

“I’m going to want to see someone else project these costs,” Morgan said at the meeting.

The design will cost the village $15,000, and MS Consultants estimates the project itself will cost between $80,000 and $100,000.

The Friends of the Poland Municipal Forest, a nonprofit volunteer organization, distributed a letter dated Feb. 8 in which the group questioned the evaluation of the bridge’s safety, which led to its closure and the project’s hefty price tag.

The letter recommends council and the board revisit “the basis for closing the bridge.” The group expects “that use of the bridge in its current condition poses no immediate danger.”

Forest board member Mark Thompson publicly responded to the letter in a Feb. 19 email.

In an effort to “correct many misstatements,” Thompson detailed the multiple evaluations conducted on the bridge.

Thompson more broadly criticized the group’s representations of council and board actions, calling them “disingenuous.”

“Whether misrepresenting the Forest Management Plan objectives, plan creator, volunteer permits, sanitary line replacement, accusing council of corruption, hazard tree policy and MS Consultants analysis to name a few ... using social media attack campaigns, spreading of misinformation and personal destructive attacks further minimizes [Friends of the Poland Municipal Forest’s] public standing and reputation,” Thompson wrote.

In its response sent Sunday, the Friends called out Thompson’s “vitriol.”

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