“When you’re viewing the creek bed from the bridge, you are looking at a 32-million-year-old ancient sea that long ago covered the region,” Bill Burleson told The Times. “This area of Itawamba County is the beginning of the prominent feature on geographical maps referred to as the Pontotoc Ridge.”
Donning his signature cowboy hat and puffing a Churchill cigar, the 74-year-old Itawamba County resident stood atop the Boguegaba Creek Bridge on Shumpert Road and discussed the importance of natural assets like the creek and the importance of keeping roads and bridges in working order that gives the public access to them.
“To the best of my knowledge, there is no other public place that the very base of this can be viewed with such clarity,” he said.
The prolific former engineer holds dual degrees in both Engineering and Business Management. Since his retirement, he landscapes and mows lawns for a living. His former passion was the hybridization of daylilies and irises at his Culver Road residence where he had over 4,000 plants.
Now his passion is rebuilding the Boguegaba Creek Bridge.
Burleson recently took his battle before the Itawamba County Board of Supervisors, during a public hearing in which county officials were set to formally and permanently close the road that houses the bridge. Accompanied by his wife, Patsy, and his son Natchez, Burleson told the board of the naturalistic and historic value of the area and gave a plethora of other reasons to replace the bridge and keep the road open.
“When you close the bridge, it increases emergency response time to my house by 12 minutes,” he said in his address to county officials. “That may not seem like much, but if I’m having a heart attack, it becomes a matter of living or dying.”
Located in the New Chapel Community, the near 2-mile paved road stretches between Patterson Road and Culver Road. Closing the road would redirect emergency personnel through New Chapel and Culver Road to reach Burleson’s home and the homes of approximately seven neighboring residents in the area.
Burleson told The Times it is not only the value of the natural asset and the value of life, but also the dollar value of the road to the county.
“According to my calculations at today’s value, the base replacement cost of the road is $599,040 and the paving cost would be $144,560,” he said, drawing on his engineering experience. “That’s over $700,000 potentially given up at the very best. Anyone would be a fool to give up that kind of asset.”
Once a road is closed, it reverts to the adjoining landowners and the county no longer has any rights to it.
“This really isn’t about the failure of a bridge. The failure here is that the bridge wasn’t kept up properly to begin with,” he told the board during the hearing.
Burleson told The Times the wooden pylons that support the bridge have shifted from the weight of falling trees being washed downstream. Coupled with the deterioration by time itself, the unstable structure has been blocked by barricades for more than two years, making the road impassable and prompting the board to close it entirely.
Burleson told the board the move to close it would be a devastation to both his and his son’s property value. The barricades meant to keep people off the road have been destroyed, he said, and there had been multiple incidents of malicious mischief and evidence of drug use in and around the creek.
Itawamba County Board of Supervisors President Eric Hughes and 3rd District Supervisor Terry Moore told Burleson the decision to close access to the bridge was a matter of expense. The barricades cost the county $2,500 each time they have to be replaced.
Supervisors gave a rough estimate of $200,000 to replace the bridge.
Burleson told the board he could appreciate their dilemma and would gladly pay for the barricades to keep the area secure, but his advice was to rebuild the bridge.
“How much time have you spent researching this? Have you, as a board, really looked into how to fix this?” Burleson asked the group. “Don’t close it. Let’s fight to keep it. Let’s stop regressing and start progressing in Itawamba County.”
After listening to Burleson’s plea, the board agreed to table their decision whether to close the bridge until their next meeting, set for next Monday, and further discuss the fate of the aging bridge then.
Although glad the board delayed their decision, Burleson is nothing if not a realist. He knows the decision to either repair or close the road and Boguegaba Creek Bridge might not go his way.
It’s a shame, he said.
“As it stands right now, if the county proceeds with the closing of this road, then my dog will have more rights to travel here than myself or anyone else in this county,” Burleson said, standing in the middle of the decaying bridge. “Once you acquire an asset, you should do everything you can to keep it. It’s called passion.”