The WV VOAD Bridge Project has completed its 50th bridge.
A team of volunteers with Mennonite Disaster Service, under the direction of team leaders Peter and Susan Thiessen, finished building the bridge March 21 in Ivydale, Clay County.
Funded by the West Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church, the Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia and Presbytery Disaster Assistance, the project was for a family whose private access bridge was destroyed in the June 2016 flood. The homeowners have been without safe, reliable access to their home since the previous span washed out and were stretching an extension ladder over a creek to cross.
Their new bridge marks a major milestone for the WV VOAD Bridge Project. Fifty completed bridges now have been built in nine flood-damaged counties around the state.
The WV VOAD Bridge Project is a collaboration between voluntary organizations, government agencies, businesses and community groups to rebuild private bridges that were destroyed or damaged during flooding.
The project began in 2015 after several floods in the southern part of the state left more than 500 families with damaged or destroyed bridges.
“We saw kids missing school, we had situations where ambulances could not get to people in need and we had people who couldn’t do basic things like going to the grocery store,” said Jenny Gannaway, WV VOAD executive director.
Working with JZ Engineering of Harrisonburg, Va., project collaborators developed an innovative plan to engineer state-of-the-art bridges that would exceed federal standards and withstand future flooding. The WV VOAD Bridge Project began construction of its first span on Dec. 4, 2015. The bridge was complete within a week, setting the standard for what was to come.
“We looked at every problem that arose and we just found an answer,” Gannaway said. “It really is about the whole community coming together to make these projects happen. We want to thank all the agencies that have helped with funding and we appreciate the help from everyone who has been involved in this successful endeavor.”
In 2016, less than a year after its inception, the Bridge Project was honored as National VOAD’s 2016 Innovative Program of the Year.
The shortest bridge that has been completed was 12 feet long; the longest was a 90-foot-2-inch span in Mingo County that took about two years of planning.
Multiple VOAD member agencies and other organizations, including Mennonite Disaster Service and American Baptist Men, have provided volunteers, often from around the country, to help construct the bridges. Many other agencies and philanthropic organizations, such as Adventist Community Service and Community Lutheran Partners, have provided funding for the projects. Staffing to do permitting and case management has been provided by the Benedum Foundation.
Volunteers with Mennonite Disaster Service have contributed an estimated $700,000 in in-kind labor, not to mention much more in donated funds and materials.
Even some out-of-state organizations, such as from Pennsylvania, have developed unique programs to help get bridges built. Team Orwigsburg volunteers have prefabricated bridges in their warehouse, trucked the bridges to flood-damaged properties in West Virginia and installed them with cranes.
Additional bridge projects are ongoing this spring, and work on the 51st bridge is under way. Many more projects are in the engineering phase and construction will be ongoing throughout the year.
With the support of member agencies, donors and volunteers, WV VOAD looks forward to continuing to build these bridges that keep communities connected and keep West Virginians safe!