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Up the creek

Chip Ellis
Debbie Thompson (right) and her sister, Vicky Lively, are worried about the bank washing out from under the bridge that crosses Seng Creek to Thompson's Boone County home.
WHITESVILLE, W.Va. -- A white plastic lawn chair weighted down with a rock reminds visitors not to drive over the bridge that crosses Seng Creek to Debbie Thompson's Boone County home.Officials for the Federal Emergency Management Agency helped put in the bridge after flooding in 2001 sent a swath of destruction down Seng Creek, not far from Whitesville. Since then, Thompson's husband has died, no one has been able to do routine maintenance on the bridge, and rushing water has continued to eat out the bank beneath the wooden span.A sewer line that crosses the creek just above the bridge catches trash and debris, backing up the creek during periods of heavy rain. Then, said Thompson, 57, water rushes over and under the bridge, further eroding the bank. Though laid on railroad ties atop rock on each end, the rock and bank on the side of the creek closest to Thompson's home has all but washed away. While the downstream side remains anchored to the bank, the upstream end of the railroad tie is suspended in midair, apparently held up by a single piece of rebar sunk into the creek bed."I can't get in and clean up the trash," said Thompson, who uses a cane to get around. "When the water gets high, I get hit with [debris] up here."
Half a dump-truck load of rock and someone to place it would probably shore up the crumbling bank, but Thompson doesn't know where to turn for help. "I even asked the Union Mission," said Thompson. "I've talked to about everyone I could think to talk to."Several years ago, officials at a Massey Energy coal mine just up the road offered to help fix the bridge. But Massey has since sold out, and the help never materialized.Thompson said she can't afford to fix the bridge and the bank herself, but has been unable to find a social services agency or government office to help. She said she could round up enough old lumber to replace the bridge deck, but can't afford much more. "If somebody could just build up the bank I'd be satisfied," she said.Boone County does not have a planning department. Kim Neal, of the southern West Virginia field office for the West Virginia Conservation Agency, said a conservation agent would take a look at the bridge and see if the agency can do anything to help Thompson. Reach Rusty Marks at or 304-348-1215.
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