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Benwood bridge demolition going to mediation

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By KELSEY KENNEDY, WTRF-TV

BENWOOD, WV —A U.S. District Court hearing was held Tuesday evening in hopes of making progress toward an agreement between the City of Benwood and the owners of the Bellaire Bridge. However, the meeting resulted in another meeting.

WTRF.com spoke to Benwood Police Chief Frank Longwell and Lee Chaklos, the owner of the bridge, after Tuesday's meeting. They say each side stated their piece to U.S. District Court Judge Algenon Marbley then agreed to meet in Columbus on July 16 for a mediation meeting. 

Chaklos says he's hopeful the next meeting will produce results. 

"I am hopeful that on that date, at least everything will be in front of the judge, good or bad, in black and white," he says. "This way no one can circumvent what they said. No one can go back on what they said or change anything."

The meeting included attorneys for Chaklos and the city, Benwood's Mayor and Chief Longwell, as well as Chaklos's sub-contractor consultant, among a few others. Representative McKinley and Congressmen Rigell were not able to make the call. 

Chaklos admitted the judge brought up the $60,000 in fines that have accumulated, but claims he didn't say anything more about imposing them. Whereas, Chief Longwell says the judge mentioned incarceration when addressing those fines. So, how the fines will be dealt with remains unclear.

Both parties seemed confident a resolution will be reached on July 16.

The bridge over the Ohio River at Benwood opened to traffic in December 1926. It operated as a toll bridge until May 1, 1991, when the Ohio Department of Transportation demolished the Ohio approach so it could relocate state Route 7. ODOT sold the bridge to a private concern that wanted it for the scrap value of the steel.

Benwood officials and Chaklos have negotiated for several years on a plan to demolish the bridge.