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Historic Boonville bridge prompts investigation of Coast Guard procedures

Thursday, April 24, 2008 | 7:58 p.m. CDT; updated 5:45 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
The historic railroad bridge in Boonville has spanned the Missouri River since 1932, but it is no longer in use.

COLUMBIA — A St. Louis-based environmental group has accused the U.S. Coast Guard of urging the Union Pacific Railroad to omit references of the historic Boonville Bridge from its application for a new bridge.

If it deliberately omitted references to the bridge, the Union Pacific Railroad would be in violation of two federal laws: the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

A 2007 Missouri Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for the bridge, which crosses the Missouri River in Boonville, to be dismantled by the railroad. The railroad hopes to use the salvaged spans in a new bridge over the Osage River.

Representatives from Great Rivers Environmental Law Center said that the Inspector General should revoke the permit for the construction of the new bridge.

“The Coast Guard took deliberate steps to cover their eyes and scrub these documents” to expedite removal of the old bridge so its parts can be used to help build the new one, said Bruce Morrison, general counsel for Great Rivers.

But James Barnes, spokesman for Union Pacific Railroad, said that these claims about the interaction between the Coast Guard and Union Pacific are inaccurate.

“There’s nothing insidious about this. We’re in compliance with the law,” Barnes said.

There have been two applications related to the bridge projects. The first application linked the Jefferson City bridge project with the bridge in Boonville.

Barnes said Union Pacific is still waiting for approval to use materials from the old bridge. That’s why the Boonville Bridge was not included in the second application. So omitting references to the bridge did not violate the law, as suggested by Great Rivers, he said.

Barnes said that the Coast Guard is still assessing the Boonville Bridge to make sure use of its spans complies with environmental and historical laws and that no action to dismantle the bridge or use its parts has been taken.

On Wednesday, the environmental group asked the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the Coast Guard’s role in the omission. The request states the U.S. Coast Guard suggested Union Pacific Railroad remove mentions of the historic bridge in its application to build a new bridge across the Osage River in Jefferson City.

They never mentioned using materials from the old bridge to build the new bridge in their application, Morrison said.

The Department of Homeland Security and Inspector General’s office policy is not to comment on investigations. This includes to say whether or not one is taking place, said Marty Metelko, spokesperson for the Inspector General’s office.

“This could have an impact down the road on the case itself, so we have to be very careful,” she said.

A spokesman for the Coast Guard, Commander Jeff Carter, also declined to comment on whether there was an investigation pending.

Great Rivers has obtained e-mails between representatives of the Coast Guard’s Department of Bridge Administration and representatives from Union Pacific using the Freedom of Information Act.

An e-mail written by Bridge Administration chief Nicholas Mpras reads, “Last week I had a call from UPPR (Union Pacific Railroad) and they agreed to separate their proposal for a new bridge from the old bridge.”

James Wilson, chair of the Board of Directors of Great Rivers, said because the Boonville Bridge is eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it would be given special protection under these acts.

Barnes said while the Coast Guard has granted Union Pacific a permit to build the new bridge, that permit does not include the use of spans and other material from the old bridge.

“Before the Coast Guard issued that permit, it was to have required and begun a consultation process under the Historic Preservation Act. The Coast Guard is now doing that after the fact,” Morrison said.


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