By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Purcell business owner Greg Lucy wrote to the governor this week. Lucy owns Purcell Farm and Ranch Supply, a business that depends heavily on trade from Lexington and surrounding areas.
The recent closure of the James C. Nance Memorial Bridge has dramatically affected his ability to do business.
“On a map, these are two cities in two different counties,” Lucy said. “In reality, this is one extended community with a river running through it.”
Lucy told Gov. Mary Fallin he would appreciate any help available for local businesses.
“A prolonged closure of this bridge is going to cause some business failure on both sides of the bridge,” Lucy said.
Fallin has responded with a letter of her own. She is asking for an Economic Injury Declaration from the U.S. Small Business Administration to qualify businesses affected by the closure of the bridge to seek federal aid through low-interest loans.
The bridge connecting Lexington and Purcell was closed after cracks were found in the beams of the truss system that supports the 76-year-old structure.
With the bridge out, people are unable to cross the Canadian River, turning a 10-minute trip into a 45-minute detour route. Repairs started Jan. 31. State officials said the bridge is expected to open in mid-June.
Meanwhile, local businesses like Purcell Farm & Ranch are feeling the pinch.
“I’m proud of the governor for her help in looking out for the Lexington and Purcell area,” said state Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville. “This has been a very difficult time for us. We have some businesses that could go under if it stays closed that long.”
Originally, the bridge was expected to reopen within 45 days of the closure, but when more cracks were found by contractors in mid-March, the repair timeline stretched to 120 days.
An economic injury declaration by the SBA would allow business owners in McClain and Cleveland counties to apply for federally subsidized loans.
“The increase in travel time has created an undue financial burden for the residents and small business owners in both counties and communities,” the governor wrote in a letter to the SBA. “The magnitude of the bridge closure presents unexpected consequences to these communities that could be difficult to recover from without extended support from the SBA.”
Several businesses in Lexington, which make up 90 percent of the city’s economic structure, are reporting a 30 to 50 percent decline in sales as a result of the bridge closure, the governor wrote.
Businesses documenting the pinch include A & B Auto Recyclers, C&C Tag, C&C Insurance and Clark’s Floors & Moore in Lexington.
Frank and Jeanice Clark of Clark’s Floors told the governor in a letter that they have “operated out of Lexington for over 17 years.”
The Clarks said they saw a dramatic drop in business as a result of the bridge closure.
“We rely heavily on consumers from Purcell, Pauls Valley, Norman and many other small, surrounding towns of Purcell and Lexington for our business,” the Clarks said.
In Purcell, small business owners represent about 80 percent of the city’s economic structure.
In addition to Purcell Farm and Ranch Supply, Alma’s Flowers, Purcell Vision Clinic, Savvy Parke, Starchy’s Cleaners and United Drug & Health in Purcell also are suffering.
“Our shop receives orders daily for delivery to residents and business in Lexington,” said Patti Wilhoit, of Alma’s Flowers, in a letter to the governor detailing the strain the closure is putting on her business. “Now what used to be a three-minute delivery is 70-80 minute delivery. We have been forced to refuse orders daily because it is not feasible ...”
The president will have to sign off on the declaration.
Oklahoma Department of Transportation engineers received recommendations from expert consultants concerned that continued cracking on the bridge would pose a serious safety issue if the bridge were reopened early to light vehicles.
The bridge, named for former newspaper publisher and Speaker of the House James C. Nance, was closed to all traffic after 11 cracks were discovered in 10 areas during a post-repair inspection. A contractor began working on emergency repairs Feb. 14. Since then, 264 cracks have been discovered in about 40 locations.
Metal brackets that strengthen the bridge are being fabricated in Oklahoma City and Florida and are being installed as soon as they arrive, chief engineer Casey Stell told county commissioners.
ODOT will pay incentives to contractors Manhattan Road and Bridge Co. and Sherwood Construction for timely completion.
A free shuttle running between the two communities has drawn about 1,800 total riders, with as many as 100 riders some days.
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