A little help from some higher authorities has put the Shieldstown Covered Bridge rehabilitation project back in motion.
Jackson County officials weren’t getting anywhere with contractor Duncan Robertson Inc. of Franklin after work stalled because of material being rejected.
They enlisted the help of District 44 Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, and Indiana Department of Transportation officials.
Jackson County Highway Superintendent Jerry Ault recently told commissioners the project is set to resume Sept. 1.
“I’m glad to see it going because I’m tired of hearing about it,” a relieved Ault said after the commissioners meeting.
“It was more INDOT than us,” he said of what helped get the rehabilitation work back on schedule. “We have no leverage, none whatsoever. Otherwise, it would have still been dead in the water.”
In early 2015, Duncan Robertson was awarded the $1.1 million contract to rehabilitate the 141-year-old 355-foot-long covered bridge that sits along County Road 200N in Hamilton Township. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The company had until July 31, 2016, to complete the work. Since that didn’t happen, it had been receiving a daily fine of $1,500.
“Whenever the job ends and they get paid, that money will get deducted from whatever they’ve got coming,” Ault said.
INDOT typically allows contractors to shut down from December to April, but Ault said it is making an exception for Duncan Robertson so work continues through the winter as long as weather permits. He said it’s possible the project could be completed by the fall of 2018.
“They have what they call a winter shutdown, where no liquidated damages count against them. They are not going to do that,” he said. “They are going to allow them to go straight through.”
Ault said one reason the original shipment of timbers for the frame of the bridge was rejected is because the wood was green. The freshly cut timbers needed more time to sit.
At the beginning of May, the wood was graded and reinspected at Duncan Robertson in Franklin by a grader hired by INDOT and the wood that was acceptable was wrapped and shipped to the highway garage in Brownstown. Ault was present at Duncan Robertson for that process.
“There were a lot of pieces that were cracked or bowed so bad that we were able to cut them down and get a length that they could still use, but then they had to reorder what they were short. Some of them are 40 feet long, 22 feet long and various sizes,” Ault said. “Whatever they could cut back and use, they are going to be able to use. Everything else, they have had to reorder.”
Duncan Robertson has shown proof of reordering the shipment of timbers and a copy of the check for the 20 percent deposit it put down.
In December, Jackson County Commissioners President Matt Reedy said he had talked to Koch about helping get the rehabilitation work back on track. Reedy had attended several progress meetings with INDOT, but Duncan Robertson officials never were present.
At the time, the company had not submitted a construction timeline or reordered materials, so Reedy thought it was time for commissioners to consider another approach. He said a senator has a lot more pull with INDOT than a county commissioner.
In the Nov. 8 general election, Koch won the Senate District 44 seat, which serves all of Brown and Lawrence counties and parts of Bartholomew, Jackson and Monroe counties.
He previously served District 65 in the House of Representatives, which covers Brown County, most of Lawrence County and parts of Monroe, Jackson and Johnson counties.
A subcontractor removed the siding from the bridge in the spring of 2015, but then the project stalled for months because nearly 70 percent of the wood obtained for the sides of the bridge was rejected because it was not up to national historic preservation standards.
Duncan Robertson filed a notice of change of conditions, but officials with Indiana Landmarks, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Historical Preservation and Archaeology and INDOT’s Cultural Resources Office upheld the decision to reject the materials because they did not meet specifications.
Project manager Brad Isaacs with Janssen and Spaans Engineering Inc. of Indianapolis said those agencies were responsible for obtaining 80 percent of the funding for the work and were not going to accept subpar materials. Shingles purchased for the roof replacement part of the project didn’t meet specifications, either.
Jackson County is the sponsor of the project and is paying 20 percent of the costs, while a National Historic Covered Bridge grant is funding the rest. INDOT administers federal monies and assures compliance with federal standards.
After moving its equipment from the job site in early 2016 and making little contact with the state or county, Duncan Robertson returned to the site in December to place a wrap long enough to cover the open sides of the bridge.
Isaacs said that seven-day project involved installation of a special protective treated tarpaulin covering that allowed air to circulate while protecting the structure and keeping it from deteriorating. That covering was approved by commissioners, and the task was performed because of orders from INDOT.
Ault said then that the bridge was stable and sitting on a solid foundation. He and another county employee took a boat out on the East Fork White River to remove a logjam off of the center pier of the bridge.