The Indiana New Harmony Bridge and Wabash River Authority is ready to temporarily turn over their portion of ownership of the Harmony Way Bridge to their Illinois counterparts once bridge ownership is transferred to the two sides.
Mike Eggbert, Chairman of the Illinois New Harmony Bridge Authority, informed his fellow INHBA members, during an authority meeting on Thursday, Jan. 30, that the Indiana authority had voted to quit claim the bridge to them once bridge ownership of the bridge has been transferred jointly to both authorities. The move is expected to be a short-term one, with the Illinois authority intending to deed partial ownership back to the Indiana side once the latter party is able to gain clarification on how the state of Indiana classifies the entity.
If the Indiana authority is considered a state entity, concerns by its members concerning liability insurance and tort immunity issues would be covered by the state of Indiana. The Illinois authority, which is already recognized as a state entity, is already covered by the state of Illinois on both fronts.
Due to the murky nature of the Indiana authority’s status, they elected to hand their claim for the bridge to the Illinois side, at least temporarily.
“I went to the Indiana authority meeting they had on Jan. 2,” said Eggbert. “They did vote to quit claim the deed back to us with a reverting clause that they can claim their interest back anytime within five years.
“They have a legislator proposing language in this legislative session to put them in their tort law, so they would be immune.”
The Indiana authority also opted to make Illinois the lead agency for recording purposes when dealing with the Federal Highway Administration, which is expected to do much of the heavy lifting financially when the actual repairs to and restoration of the bridge are taking place.
Eggbert also reported that Indiana authority planned to reach out to the Indiana Governor’s Office to see if an award of $350,000 given to them through the Indiana Economic Development Corporation for the bridge would still be usable if they were not partial owners of the structure.
Eggbert also mentioned to the Illinois authority a need to discuss the division of funding between the two bodies for the bridge moving forward.
“When we have a joint meeting next, we’ll have to have a discussion about funding that either one of us get, because they had a lot of discussion about how they would be paying half for everything,” he said. “And no time in the life or the effort to reopen the bridge are we going get the same exact amount of money from both states.
“But they talked about only paying half as we go along.”
Eggbert, the only remaining member of the White County Bridge Commission, a federal entity which currently owns the bridge, stated that funding between the two states regarding the bridge has never been equal in a given year.
“The only time the bridge got money in the past, Illinois gave money and we spent it on both the Illinois and Indiana sides to do what needed to be done,” he recalled. “The following year, Indiana gave an amount that we spent on both sides of the river doing things that needed to be done.”
The Illinois authority chairman concluded that it would be very unlikely for the two sides to match each other dollar for dollar every year as they restore and manage the bridge.
“As time goes on, (there will be times when) they won’t have their half, or vice versa,” explained Eggbert.