Moffat County reaches agreement with feds over Swinging Bridge |

Moffat County reaches agreement with feds over Swinging Bridge

Patrick Kelly
The Browns Park Swinging Bridge has been out of commission since an employee of Moffat County rancher T. Wright Dickinson attempted to drive a tractor across the bridge in 2014.
Patrick Kelly

The Moffat County commissioners reached an agreement with the federal government that should bring the Browns Park Swinging Bridge one step closer to being repaired.

An employee of local rancher T. Wright Dickinson attempted to drive an overweight tractor across the bridge in June 2014 but punched through halfway across.

Since then, the bridge has remained closed.

When looking at securing funds for a repair, the county realized it does not own the bridge — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does.

Without the title to the bridge or right-of-way agreement, the county was informed by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs it would not be able to apply for matching grants to repair the bridge.

Initially, the county tried to obtain ownership of the bridge, but the service wanted to retain ownership.

“Turns out, the federal government doesn’t give anything away,” Moffat County Natural Resources Director Jeff Comstock said.

As the deadline to apply for grants in 2016 — which would allow repairs to begin in August 2017 — rapidly approached, U.S. Fish and Wildlife made an expedited effort to create a right-of-way contract, which the commissioners signed Tuesday.

The contract grants Moffat County the right to “repair, use, operate and maintain the Swinging Bridge” and also sets up cost sharing for future maintenance.

“I think we got what you asked for out of this. In the big picture, this right-of-way gives the county control over management of the bridge, and the Fish and Wildlife Service owns it,” Comstock told the county commissioners.

With the agreement in place, Moffat County Development Services Director Roy Tipton can pursue a $760,000 matching grant from DOLA to secure the rest of the $1.42 million needed for the repair project.

The matching portion of the grant breaks down to $160,000 from the county — $68,000 of which is from Dickinson’s insurance payment — $500,000 from the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Off-System Bridge Program and $100,000 from stakeholders.

Tipton said the project goes beyond fixing the hole caused by Dickinson’s employee, and it is unfair, he said, to hang Dickinson with the entire cost of the project.

“There are inspections that go back before I was here in 2012 and identified other deficiencies on the bridge,” he said. “When you look at that accident and you compare all those inspection reports, there is no way that you can hang that other damage on Dickinson.”

The project the county hopes to complete would address all the maintenance needs on the bridge and do more than just repair the damage caused by the tractor, Tipton said.

“The trigger was the accident,” he said. “Every time something like that happens you have to look at every nut and bolt on the structure.”

Tipton emphasized that Dickinson is not the sole culprit behind the bridge’s current condition.

“Dickinson is not the only one who used that bridge and he’s not the only one who overloaded it,” he said.

Moffat County Commissioner Chuck Grobe said he is pleased with the agreement.

“This is phenomenal that we can move forward with our DOLA grant,” he said.

County officials and the commissioners also thanked the Fish and Wildlife Service for working to complete the contract so quickly.

“The county appreciates the fish and wildlife service expediting this process,” Comstock said.

The Swinging Bridge is the only access between the north and south sides of the Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge, and it takes at least an hour-and-a-half long drive to get from one side to the other when it cannot be used.

Contact Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or Contact Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or or follow him on Twitter @M_PKelly.Contact Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or or follow him on Twitter @M_PKelly.

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