Ozark County commissioners have rejected an offer from Bob and Connie Bushner to split the costs to replace a washed-out bridge at Tecumseh.
The bridge, which spanned a creek at the edge of the Corps of Engineers park at Tecumseh, was washed away in September 2010 during heavy rainfall. Since then, the Bushners have had to use a boat or an ATV to go in and out of their home just north of the bridge site.
The creek empties into Norfork Lake at Tecumseh and is on Corps property.
According to eastern district commissioner T.J. Lewis, he had verbally agreed that the county would cover up to $20,000 using in-kind labor and equipment to help replace the bridge. "The county can't afford to pay out cash for this project," Lewis said. "But I was willing to go so far with in-kind labor and rock and stuff."
But now that offer is no longer on the table, Lewis said.
The Bushners, through attorney John Russo, sent the commissioners a written proposal in September that stated they would agree to pay half of the $53,950 they estimated it would cost to replace the bridge. That estimate came from a bid from Pace Construction Co.
In the letter dated Sept. 22, Russo said his clients were ready to enter into a contract with Ozark County to pay half of the $53,950. The letter also asked the county for a breakdown of costs and how much would be in the form of cash, materials, labor or other in-kind contributions.
Russo's letter also said that a petition asking people to sign if they thought the county should replace the washed-out bridge had garnered more than 160 signatures. The petition was "a measurement tool of public interest in the matter," the letter said. It was placed at stores in the area.
In discussing the matter Monday, Lewis said, "As far as I'm concerned, when they hired a lawyer all previous offers are off the table."
All three commissioners - Lewis, western district commissioner Greg Donley and presiding commissioner Dave Morrison - voted to not accept the Bushners' offer.
Russo said his clients are "extremely disappointed" in the county's decision. "When my clients purchased their retirement home, they did so knowing that they had a county easement and access. Now the county decides they won't have that," Russo said. "What happens to others throughout the county when our public officials decide they are not going to keep their word to maintain other roads and bridges?"
The county has maintained the road past the bridge and the bridge itself off and on over the years, even though it's all on Corps of Engineers property. An old wooden bridge spanned the gap for several years but was washed out in a September 2009 deluge.
The county spent about $10,000 on a makeshift culvert project, which failed in September 2010. The Bushners have been stranded ever since. There are no other residences past the bridge.
The Corps has washed its hands of the issue, saying it is a county problem.
"We've bent over backwards to try and help them out," Lewis said. "There's really not much left we can do."