by Valerie Verkamp and Ivan Foley
In southern Platte County, one lake community is quite divided as Houston Lake city officials move forward with closing an 80-year-old bridge that some residents consider a landmark and lifeline to their community.
Bob King, who has lived at Houston Lake since 2000, is outraged that city officials voted to close the 102-foot wooden bridge that sits over the spillway on Houston Lake Drive, especially after the amount of work he personally has contributed over the years to repairing the bridge.
“The bridge needs to remain open for emergency purposes,” said King. “Close the bridge and you have two dead end streets. The sheriff on one side of the lake will be forced to turn around and go all the way around when responding to an emergency on the other side of the lake.”
The closing of the bridge would also impact elderly residents on the lake that use the bridge on a daily basis to get to the grocery store, said King.
“The bridge provides essential access into Riverside without the hazard of getting onto Interstate 29 and 56th Street,” he explained.
King is not alone.
Around 80 of the 235 Houston Lake residents have signed a petition urging city officials to keep the bridge open.
City officials took measures to close the bridge for a projected three-year period mainly due to the damage the bridge has sustained after being struck by two vehicles. An increase in the number of automobiles crossing the bridge at a higher rate of speed has also caused damage to the bridge. A large number of the vehicles crossing the spillway bridge are driven by motorists who live outside of the Houston Lake city limits but access the spillway bridge from Jeffrey Lane, which links to nearby subdivisions.
City officials estimate it would cost $1.2 million to construct a new bridge.
King says that number is inflated and meant to scare Houston Lake residents.
According to the National Bridge Inventory website, the bridge was last inspected May 10. The individual inspection report provides an inventory of various areas of inspection. The website list improvements to the bridge structure at $290,000, says King.
“For $290,000 they can fix the substructure that runs sideways across the bridge,” said King. “Closing the bridge is the worst thing that could happen to it. Closing it will not stop but rather speed up the deterioration of the timbers. Moisture and UV rays are the enemy for it. Sealer would have helped stop moisture and UV rays. The bridge needs the movement of traffic,” he said.
The bridge was reconstructed in 1994. Since that time, a number of residents donated their time and purchased materials to keep the bridge in working order. King was among a short list of residents who purchased numerous materials to seal the wooded bridge.
“I bought adjustable extensions, pumps for five-gallon buckets, and rollers to lay down the sealant,” he said.
Around this time, King was faced with a life-threatening illness and could not lay the sealant himself. Bill Gay of Houston Lake offered to seal the wooden bridge at a rate of $9 per hour. His offer fell on deaf ears, says King.
“Mayor (Mike) Hallauer let the bridge go, said King. “It sure would have extended the life of the bridge if it was sealed. I am still trying to find out what happened to all the supplies. On an account of the city, Hallauer bought 15-gallons of the good Olympic sealer but when I approached Alderman Dan Coronado, he didn't know a thing about them.”
Mayor Hallauer did not respond to The Landmark's requests for comment.
Aldermen Jean Anderson and Coronado indicated that as mayor, Hallauer is the “voice of the city” and declined to comment.
Teri Deister, a resident who has lived on the lake for more than 20 years, said driving along Houston Lake Drive over the bridge and being able to check out all the activity on the water is something she finds very enjoyable.
“The bridge has always been a very big part of the lake,” said Deister. “It is a landmark of the lake.”
In addition to its aesthetic appeal, Deister said the bridge funnels traffic over a speed bump to a more direct route to the interstate, Prairie View Road, and Roanridge.
“If the bridge is shut down, traffic will be forced to use roadways on the west side of the lake where not only the roads are curvier and narrower with more blind spots, but the housing population is denser and the number of children in the area is greater. If you count the number of houses from Jeffrey Lane (where most of the traffic originates) to the bridge and out to the highway, there are 16 homes. Traffic directed to the east side will pass by 39 homes,” Deister remarked.
“I just think it's an accident looking for a place to happen,” she added.
According to the minutes of a June city council meeting, Hallauer brought up the position of closing the bridge “indefinitely” after hearing concerns from residents who spoke of the “danger they have experienced with the heavy and speeding traffic” and said the bridge closing was a matter of either “inconvenience or safety.”
The decision to close the bridge was unanimous among all four aldermen.
In the weeks that followed, Aldermen Rick Cowan and Coronado demonstrated a change of heart and signed the petition to keep the bridge open, said Deister.
The bridge remains open at this time.
History shows the Houston Lake community has acquired a reputation of getting the job done without borrowing large sums of money. According to history compiled by Mary Head and Dennis Hodges, Houston Lake's City Hall was constructed in 1968 with an impressive 85 percent volunteer rate. In addition to their time, residents also donated building material.
Houston Lake was formed sometime around 1880 when the Brenner family purchased farm land near Jumping Branch Creek. With the intent of creating a family farm pond, the Brenner family dammed Jumping Branch Creek, which eventually spanned into a 20-acre lake. The body of water became known as Lake Venetia.
Charles E Houston and Emma B. Houston purchased land from Alma Brenner in 1928. Houston's vision was to create a place where families could build a country home but easily access the more urban areas of town.
The name of the lake was changed to the Village of Houston Lake to distinguish it from another lake in the area with the same name. On Feb. 26, 1955 the Lake was deeded to the Venetian Gardens and Home's Association, which today manages the lake and the surrounding areas such as the dam and the Mayor's Park. In 1960, Houston Lake became incorporated as a 4th class city.