KEENE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) - Crews removed what was left of the iconic White's Bridge from the Flat River Monday.
The 146-year-old bridge -- which spanned the river in Ionia County between Lowell and Belding -- was destroyed in a July 7 fire that authorities say was arson, though no arrests have been made. The charred remains of the bridge, which had been the oldest covered bridge in use in Michigan, have remained in the river since.
Monday, a group of volunteers known as Friends Rebuilding White's Bridge used donated equipment to pull wood from the river. Now, the salvaged mess will get a new life.
"The pieces of the bridge that are pulled, we are going to store in a secure location and we will be making articles to sell to raise money out of the wood," group leader Paul Phenix told 24 Hour News 8.
He said the group got permission from the county to do so.
Phenix has committed himself to seeing the bridge rebuilt, which he says is going to cost about $850,000.
A month ago, he sat at the Ionia Free Fair selling T-shirts for the cause. He sold only one while 24 Hour News 8 was with him.
But Monday, things were different.
"I am not going to rebuild this bridge. The community is," Phenix said.
That community, largely formed on Facebook, came out in force. About 20 people came together as part of the effort. Earth-moving equipment and crews came from a Eco Demolition, Inc., of Holland and fuel was paid for by a local farmer.
The Ionia County Road Commission says it could not have afforded the cleanup any other way. Organizers say the estimates for removal of the debris were as high as $40,000. The road commission says it never bothered to get estimates, knowing the debris was not a environmental or commercial hazard.
Phenix is a veteran and says he suffered from post-traumatic stress until this project.
"I would sit in my house literally for seven to nine days and I did not want to go out anywhere, cause I just didn't want to be around people," he said. "I put the PTSD to bed. I know I have to get out and talk to people because I want to meet my goal and that goal is replace this bridge."
The Friends Rebuilding Whites Bridge fundraising efforts are picking up. Just this weekend, the group made over $3,000 at a hog roast.
Rebuild White's Bridge Facebook page
A driver escaped safely after its vehicle crashed into the Grand River in Ottawa County Friday morning.
We get a brief break from the "lake-effect machine" Friday.
A few flurries occurred Thursday night. Lows held in the teens and the wind relaxed to the 5 to 10 mph range, with 20s at the Lake Michigan.