BENWOOD - Bellaire Bridge co-owner Lee Chaklos wants to start demolishing the span, but he said Benwood leaders are scaring off investors and obstructing his efforts by not granting him the necessary permits.
Chaklos now faces a $1,000 a day fine through federal court if he fails to start demolition of the bridge by June 20. To avoid this fine, Chaklos said he plans to ask Benwood leaders to allow him to begin work without a permit on non-structural areas of the bridge that are not over land in Benwood.
Chaklos has plans to start taking down the toll booth on the Bellaire end of the bridge, and to begin pulling up asphalt on the span.
Benwood leaders, meanwhile, say they can't allow this until Chaklos provides proof of both liability insurance and a $500,000 performance bond. When he does, they say they will grant him a permit.
"The city is giving us a real hassle about it," Chaklos said. "There are a lot of rumors that the city doesn't want to give us the permit to do the job - that they are holding us up just to heckle us ...
"Bonders don't want to bond this project because they are afraid of the city," he continued. "I have a list of investors who would want to put in money. But the city has a history of holding up projects - that's where the hang up is from here. The bottom line is we can't get a bond on that bridge. Bonding carriers are not comfortable bonding the project."
Benwood officials initially wanted bridge owners Chaklos, of Delta Demolition, and his wife, Krystal Chaklos of KDC Investments, to post a $5 million liability bond as a condition for obtaining the permit to demolish the span. Since that time, the city has reduced the requirement to a $500,000 cash bond to ensure completion of the bridge's demolition.
Benwood City Council also agreed to the name of a third party - Weirton attorney Dan Guida - being placed alongside the city's on the $500,000 escrow account. This move came after the Chakloses expressed concern about the city not returning the bond money after the project was complete.
Benwood Police Chief Frank Longwell wonders what the problem is now, as the bridge owners have yet to deposit the $500,000 into the escrow account. He pointed to a number of major development projects in Benwood that have been successfully completed in recent years - including a $206 million belt line project for Consol Energy's Shoemaker Mine and the construction of galvanizing and asphalt plants in the Benwood industrial park.
All the contractors working on these projects have been able to obtain performance bonds and liability insurance without issues, he continued.
"They're going to get their money back - with interest," Longwell said of the bridge owners. "The city doesn't want to make one red cent on their $500,000. We've got a third-party attorney hanging on to it - what's the problem now? I ask them, why are you so concerned?
"Are you concerned you will not finish the job and lose your $500,000?" he added. "That's the question I would like answered."
He said Benwood officials would not allow Chaklos to do any work on the bridge without first providing him a permit.
"He can't unscrew a screw on that bridge without a permit," Longwell said. "If he goes up there, we will have to remove him."
Judge Algenon L. Marbley of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio ruled earlier this year that the bridge owners must start work to demolish the bridge by June 20 or face a daily $1,000 fine. In addition, he required the Chakloses to submit a progress report on the project every two weeks.
The reports thus far filed with the court show no progress on the demolition but do not blame the city of Benwood for the delays, according to Guida.
"If we were causing problems, wouldn't he bring that to the attention of the federal judge?" Guida asked.