The New River Gorge Bridge in Fayette County carries U.S. 19 over the New River at a height of 876 feet, making it the highest vehicular bridge in the Americas.

CHARLESTON - An adventure tour company is alleging a state official breached a contract it had to begin tours of a popular attraction in Fayette County after it was publicly announced the contract was awarded to a competitor.

Paul A. Mattox Jr., secretary of the state Department of Transportation, is named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by Bridge Climb USA and its founder and owner, Matt Darpli. In their suit filed in Kanawha Circuit Court on Sept. 24, BCUSA and Darpli allege despite getting the green light to begin walking tours of the New River George Bridge, Mattox awarded the contract to another Fayetteville-based adventure tour company.

According to court records, Mattox offered a contract to BCUSA to begin " 'bridge walk'" tours along the catwalk 30 feet below the bridge. Though no specifics are provided, the suit alleges "BCUSA accepted the contract and began performance" and "All necessary elements of a contract were met."

At a time not specified in court records, BCUSA alleges Mattox "breached said contract by refusing to allow [it] to offer said tours, placing needless obstacles in [its] path to perform, and by offering (or planning to offer) the same contract to other vendors." The alleged breach became apparent on Sept. 23 when an article in The Charleston Gazette announced "the contract may have already been given to another vendor."

According to the Gazette, the contract was awarded to Bridge Walk LLC, a partnership between Benjy Simpson, his son Benjy III, Jerry Cook and Ernie Kincaid of Ace Adventure Center, Bruce Vest and Adventure West Virginia. According to the Secretary of State's Office, Simpson and Vest incorporated Bridge Walk on June 22.

Though details are still being finalized, tours are scheduled to start in the Spring, and run throughout the year.

Constructed in 1977, the 876-foot high, and 3,030-foot long bridge is the largest single arch steel span bridge in the western hemisphere. Including whitewater rafting tours, the New River Gorge attracts visitors in the hundreds of thousands, particular on Bridge Day, the third Saturday in October, when parachutists are legally permitted to jump off the bridge.

In addition to unspecified damages, court costs and attorney fees, Darpli and BCUSA are asking for a temporary injunction prohibiting Mattox letting the contract until a hearing is conducted. They are represented by Hurricane attorney D. Adrian Hoosier II.

The case is assigned to Judge Jennifer Bailey.

Kanawha Circuit Court, Case No. 09-C-1781

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