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Battle brewing?

Two groups want end caps from old Matlacha Bridge

January 2, 2013
By MEGHAN McCOY ( , Pine Island Eagle

The two end caps that remain of the old Matlacha Bridge are being coveted by two organizations, which occurred after both were originally dedicated to one group.

The cornerstones that remain have different sayings on them - one reads Matlacha Pass and the other has 1968 written on it, which is the year this bridge was built.

Archer Western Construction Assistant Project Manager Duvhal Gaundi said one end cap of the Matlacha Bridge was given to the Matlacha Bridge Reef Project and the other was given to the Matlacha Chamber of Commerce. He said the other two end caps were demolished two years ago when they began working on the new bridge.

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As the old Matlacha Bridge is slowly being demolished, sections are being placed on a barge to be taken out to the Novac Reef.

"That was already processed two years ago," Gaundi said of the demolition of the other two end caps.

Matlacha Bridge Reef Project President Rod Mazzoli said his group has worked thousands of hours and raised $30,000 to ensure 500 tons of the old Matlacha Bridge would be loaded onto a barge and taken to the Novac Reef- including both end caps. He said the bridge builder dedicated the two cornerstones to the Reef Project shortly after the group first formed.

"And now in the 11th hour someone wants what is already given to us," Mazzoli asked. "Two have disappeared and we don't want to give up the last two that we have worked so hard for."

As of Wednesday morning, Gaundi said one barge was full and ready to be taken to the Novac Reef site.

Archer Western Construction cut the portions of the bridge that were going to be salvaged for the artificial reef to ensure it could be delivered. He said some of the larger portions the barge company could not handle, so they cut the pieces into smaller portions.

Mazzoli said the first barge full left about 7:30 Friday morning. He said the barge was expected to return later Friday evening to be loaded for the second time to be taken out to the artificial reef. Approximately 500 tons of bridge material, beams, girders and the top of the bridge tender house will go out to the artificial reef site.

Mazzoli said it's a shame that the other group did not speak up a long time ago that they wanted an end cap.

"This other party that wants them, they should have brought this to someone's attention four months ago before the cornerstones disappeared," Mazzoli said.

Leoma Lovegrove, president of the Matlacha Chamber of Commerce, said she is thrilled that they were able to obtain an end cap of the old Matlacha Bridge.

Lovegrove is working with Greater Pine Island Parks Senior Supervisor Joe DeBacker to incorporate the end cap at a park in Matlacha.

DeBacker said if permits are obtained, the piece of the bridge would be placed at the park, which will be located at the old Snook Inn. He said right now the construction company is using the property, which is owned by the county, as a construction site.

DeBacker said once Archer Western Construction is done with the site, they are looking to turn it into a parking lot and the old Snook Inn will be turned into a restroom because the shell of the building was saved for the community.

"We expect to take over that property in February," he said.

If the end cap becomes a part of the Snook Inn Park, he said they will incorporate a plaque that states that the old bridge can be found as an artificial reef at the Novac Reef with specific coordinates.

DeBacker said it's about honoring the past and tying the history into the artificial reef.

"This is not costing anybody anything, not one penny," Lovegrove said. "When the park is in place, our chamber is going to have to raise a little bit of money to make the base of the piece."

In addition to the end cap, she said they also will receive a 16-feet long cement railing, which will be cut in half to turn into public art at the park.

The demolition of the old bridge, Gaundi said, is moving pretty good and is currently on track. If that schedule remains the same, the project will be 100 percent completed in April.

Gaundi said they are very happy that the community has so much passion about the Matlacha Bridge job.

"We are trying to give them the memento after the bridge is finished," he said.

Gaundi said he is also excited about the artificial reef because the community raised funds to move the project forward.

"We are very happy to see that it is becoming successful," he said.



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