FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM)– The Washington County judge has asked the prosecuting attorney to investigate shortcuts taken by the Washington County Road Department on at least two bridge projects.
The Washington County Quorum Court held a special meeting Monday (March 30) after watching a video filmed by former county assessor Jeff Williams that showed him pulling the rebar out of a concrete structure meant to support a bridge near Prairie Grove earlier this month. Williams' full video is included below this article.
In the video, which Williams said was shot on October 6, 2014, he demonstrates where workers cut corners building the Stonewall Road Bridge.
“One shortcut that was pointed out to me,” Williams said in the video, “Was the fact that I was told that instead of this reinforcing rebar going all the way down to the bottom of the structure, as it is intended to do, that in fact, [crews] built this structure, created this form, poured this concrete, and then simply drilled holes into the top of the concrete a number of inches and then inserted the rebar so that, in fact, only a few inches of the rebar goes down into the structure, the remainder of the structure is [not] reinforced with the rebar.”
In the video, Williams goes on to pull out by hand each piece of rebar put into the drilled holes. Normally, the concrete is poured around the rebar to support extra weight on the bridge.
“I honestly wish this video had caught attention earlier in this process,” Williams said at Monday's meeting.
County officials, including Washington County Judge Marilyn Edwards, said they never saw the video until a Quorum Court meeting on March 19.
“There is so much of this that I didn't know about,” Edwards said.
She also said she didn't play a part in the shortcuts taken by Road Department crews.
“My first concern now, and always, has been public safety,” Edwards said. “I have asked the prosecuting attorney to formally investigate this matter.”
Williams, who ran against Edwards for the County Judge seat in November 2014, said asking the prosecutor to investigate was the right thing to do.
“I praise Judge Edwards for getting the prosecuting attorney involved in investigating this, to see if there was any criminal action taken in this,” Williams said.
The Stonewall Road Bridge, which was under construction, was torn down immediately after the March 19 meeting, so crews can build the bridge the way it was supposed to have been done. County officials have said they don't know how much it will cost taxpayers to start construction over again.
“Money is never a concern over public safety,” Williams said. “That is just the reality of the situation.”
Williams' video was shown to the Washington County Quorum Court on March 19 in connection to a civil lawsuit that had been filed in U.S. District Court by Washington County Road Department worker George Braswell on Dec. 19, 2014. Pressure from county officials to “save time and reduce costs” resulted in deviations from the design plans on the Stonewall Road Bridge, according to the lawsuit.
The suit names the county and several county officials, including County Judge Marilyn Edwards and Road Department Superintendent Donnie Coleman, as defendants. It also cites the Harvey Dowell Bridge on South Mally Wagnon Road between Fayetteville and Elkins as being “dangerously under supported,” adding the “structural integrity of each bridge has been significantly compromised.”
During the March 19 meeting Edwards put the Harvey Dowell Bridge under a three-ton weight limit. The bridge has been open since 2013.
The Quorum Court will now have decided what action to take regarding other bridges in the county. One Quorum Court member suggested taking x-rays to check if they were built correctly.