Waterville Bridge Sale Leaves Many With Questions

Sarah Heidelberg, the new owner of the 1908 Roche de Boeuf Interurban Bridge, has until the end of August to come up with a plan for the property. She purchased the bridge at auction and would like to donate it to a historical preservation group. The estimated cost to renovate the aging bridge is $16 million. MIRROR PHOTO BY KAREN GERHARDINGER

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Sarah Heidelberg has until the end of August to come up with a plan.

As the high bidder during the June 30 auction of the 1908 Roche de Boeuf Interurban Bridge, Heidelberg has 60 days to come up with a plan for the property, said Ohio Department of Transportation public information officer Rebecca Dangelo.

“Then ODOT has to approve the plan before finalizing the project,” she said.

While Heidelberg stated that she plans to donate the old Waterville bridge for conservation, no details were offered on which organization would receive that donation – and how it would pay for insurance on the structure.

According to ODOT, the new owner, whether it’s Heidelberg or an organization accepting the donation of the bridge, will be responsible for maintenance and liability. It’s precisely that risk that prompted the state to offer the bridge to nearby property owners and stakeholders before the auction. With falling chunks of concrete, the state-owned bridge is deemed a liability.

A thorough study concluded that the cost to renovate the bridge would be $16 million and the cost to remove would be $2.2 million, said David Geckle, ODOT District 2 engineer, who read the terms and conditions at the auction.

The 60-day deadline means that Heidelberg will need to have a plan by the end of August.

“ODOT reserves the right to reject any bids. Namely, if the presented plan for the property is not a realistic plan,” Dangelo said.

Heidelberg outbid brothers Lance and Joseph Shepherd, who opened with a $200 bid but quit after a $6,000 offer, when “it was pretty clear we weren’t going to win,” Lance said. 

The brothers, who are based in Portage, have backgrounds that include engineering and masonry.

“We figured we could stabilize the bridge ourselves and return it to where it can be walked on safely and be used for the Roche de Boeuf Festival and walleye fishing,” Lance said. “The construction techniques in 1906 were pretty rudimentary, so it’s not that hard to recreate.”

Working with the Army Corps of Engineers, Ohio EPA and Ohio Department of Natural Resources – required for anyone who purchases the bridge – would not be daunting, Lance said. 

“It’s a huge project that would take several years, but we can get it stabilized in the first year,” he said.

The men also mentioned a desire to install a campground on the right of way land on the Wood County side of the bridge.

While their plans are on hold for now, Lance said they would check in with ODOT after the 60 days to see if they have an option, as the secondary bidder, to buy in case Heidelberg’s plans are not accepted.

A Toledo-area native whose LinkedIn profile lists a job working for a Century 21 agency in Sacramento, Heidelberg declined an interview with The Mirror.

Once a plan is approved and the contract finalized, Gov. Mike DeWine needs to sign a governor’s deed – a process that will take six to eight months to finalize. That means it will be nearly a year before the buyer takes possession.

The outcome of the auction was a surprise to many, including Waterville administrator Jon Gochenour.

“It’s a lot of work and a lot of question marks,” he said.

Waterville Historical Society president James Conrad said he’s encouraged that the bridge was purchased because that means it won’t be torn down immediately. ODOT has it slated for demolition in 2023.

Other area preservationists agree.

“There’s a a lot of people with a lot of money and some have an interest in historical preservation,” said Frank Butwin, president of the Maumee Valley Heritage Corridor. “If it’s being torn down, it’s not being preserved. “

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