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Fillmore Offers to Help Bridge Gap to Recovery in Honduras

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You could call it A Bridge Too Far.

The city of Fillmore is offering pieces of an unused bridge to Honduras, which lost more than 100 bridges to Hurricane Mitch in October.

But there is one problem.

Someone must figure out how to move the 66-ton steel trusses 4,200 miles from Ventura County to Honduras--and pay for the project.

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A relief group in Los Angeles is working to raise $50,000, Chiquita Brand International is offering to ship the bridge in pieces, and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers is figuring out whether it can help.

“Those bridges are big. They are humongous. It’s going to be a chore,” Fillmore Mayor Evaristo Barajas said.

For Fillmore, giving away the old Bardsdale Bridge is a way of repaying those around the world who came to the city’s aid after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, Barajas said.

“The devastation that happened down there doesn’t even compare to what happened in the earthquake because of the amount of lives that were lost there,” he said. “It’s just mind-boggling.”

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Mitch washed out dozens of bridges throughout Honduras alone, killed an estimated 9,000 people in Central America and left millions homeless.

Since losing the bridges, Hondurans “have to drive for hours and hours before they can get their supplies into their area,” Barajas said.

“By sending these bridges, it will help the people of Honduras be 15 years ahead instead of being 50 years behind,” added Rafael Larios, a Honduran restaurant owner in Los Angeles who is raising money for the move.

Replacing the washed-out bridges with new structures would take up to 15 years and $375,000 per bridge, he said.

In November, one week after hearing that Honduras could make use of its old bridge, the Fillmore City Council unanimously decided to make the pieces available.

“Even if we hadn’t gone through the earthquake, I think we would have done the same thing,” Barajas said. “Not every city has a bridge that they can donate.”

Larios hopes to take seven trusses from the former Bardsdale Bridge for use in constructing several individual bridges in Honduras’ industrial center of San Pedro Sula, La Paz, El Progreso and Choluteca.

“It will help at least half a million people in different areas,” he said.

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A city councilman from San Pedro Sula visited Fillmore earlier this month to see the 71-year-old trusses, which now sit side-by-side in an overgrown field.

“They didn’t even know where Fillmore was until they arrived here,” Barajas said.

Letters preceding the official’s visit were addressed to “Philmore.”

Fillmore doesn’t have the money to offer Honduras any more than the bridge. Someone else will have to move it. Two Army engineers visited Fillmore on Wednesday, at the request of Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles).

“They were very optimistic,” City Engineer Bert Rapp said. “They were very pleased at the condition and the type of construction.”

Rapp said the engineers figured that the best way to move the bridge would be to remove the rivets, pack the beams into 30-foot containers and ship them by sea to Honduras, where they would be reassembled with high-strength bolts.

Do all that, Rapp said, “and you’ve got yourself a bridge structure.”

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Still, Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Herb Nesmith said: “There are no commitments made anywhere.

“We can’t do anything without the permission from our headquarters [in Washington],” he said. “Then there’s a question of where we get all the money to do this. That’s got to be congressionally appropriated.”

Fillmore has owned the bridge since 1994, when the state Department of Transportation spent $6 million to replace the one-third-of-a-mile-long span with a wider, safer concrete structure. Caltrans gave the bridge to the city, which paid $40,000 to move its eight trusses from the Santa Clara River, where the bridge once linked Fillmore to Moorpark over California 23.

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Since then, Fillmore has considered several uses for the 135-foot-long, 30-foot-high green frames, but has used only one--for a bicycle path. Developers have eyed the pieces for subdivisions and a restaurant.

Sold for scrap, the trusses could fetch about $3,000 each, Rapp said.

“The scrappies call me every few months. They want to cut them up and haul them away for the steel,” he said. “But we don’t really want to see them scrapped. We saved them in hopes that they’d be reused.”

For now, Fillmore--and the bridge--are just waiting.

“We have put no time requirements on them,” Rapp said. “If they don’t do anything for a year or two, I guess we’d have to give it up that they aren’t going to be able to.”

Now that Fillmore has become too big for its bridges, Barajas hopes that the quaint span that folks had driven over since 1928 will become a bridge in Honduras for the 21st century.

“We’re hoping that there it becomes useful and also somehow a landmark--a special gift from the city of Fillmore.”

FYI

Donations for the bridge project can be sent to Foundation for Honduran Development, P.O. Box 4071, Alhambra, CA 91803. For information, call (213) 538-0036.


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