Newton County District 8 Justice of the Peace Arlis Jones is working to save the state Highway 7 Bridge that crosses the Buffalo National River at Pruitt. The bridge, located in his district, is scheduled for removal once a new span is constructed. It is scheduled for completion a year from now.
The current bridge, constructed in 1931, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990 as part of the Historic Bridges of Arkansas, Multiple Property Nomination, according to the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ArDOT). The bridge is the only known example of a Pennsylvania Through Truss with two Warren Pony Trusses attached to the main span.
Jones has been working to find support for saving the old bridge and made a formal proposal to the quorum court at its November meeting. He asked his fellow justices of the peace to petition the circuit court to issue a stay of action preventing demolition until it is proven that all federal statutory and policy requirements pertaining to the matter of alteration or destruction of a federally protected historic site has been fully complied with.
Jones said the bridge would be a valuable tourist attraction for the area. He said the stay would give time for inquiry into the unwarranted destruction of the old bridge.
The quorum court has addressed taking ownership of the bridge in the past. In 2003 and again in 2007, then county judge Harold Smith wrote letters to the highway department that as county judge he would work with the commission to take the current bridge into the county road system or for the bridge to be left in place for historical purposes.
The quorum court at various times said it would be interested in the bridge only to sell it as scrap.
There appeared to be no enthusiasm among current justices of the peace for the county to take over the responsibility of maintaining the old bridge as a pedestrian crossing.
Jones convinced the JPs to at least table his proposal until the December court meeting when he said he would provide some authoritative evidence that the old bridge could be maintained without the risk of liability to its custodian.
On Monday night, Jones presented the court with a volume of documents titled "Authoritative Evidence pertaining to Key Issues of the Buffalo River Bridge at Pruitt." Newton County Judge Warren Campbell also presented to the court two documents showing that the county had no interest in possessing the bridge. The first was a letter from the highway department dated Nov. 19, 2010, acknowledging to then county judge John Griffith that the county had no interest in accepting the title for the bridge. The other was a letter from Campbell to the highway department written on Oct. 17, 2013, that the county will not accept "ownership/responsible" of the Pruitt Bridge.
Jones asked the court to look at the information and to table the matter for another month. "There is so much information in this. There is no way we can go through it tonight." He said the documentation corrects much misinformation that has been related concerning liability, safety and access issues involving the bridge.
The court agreed to table the matter to January.