Claverack Board moves, cautiously, toward new bridge

CLAVERACK–The Town Board voted to take the next step in the process of replacing the Millbrook Bridge last week, but not before tense debates on how to proceed.

At the May 9 meeting, the board also learned about the Hudson Estuary Watershed Resiliency Project and hired special counsel to assist in the process reviewing the application for a festival called the Big Up.

The concrete arch bridge on Millbrook Road has been closed for several years because it was deemed unsafe by the state. With the bridge closed, drivers have been using town property by the Highway garage as an alternate route. Councilman Bob Presusser said that a census was done that shows 40 vehicles use this route daily.

“We’ve been allowing that to happen, and we really shouldn’t be allowing that to be a public road,” said Mr. Preusser.

The Town Board has been looking into replacing the bridge with a stronger, safer, two-lane bridge, estimated to cost roughly $400,000. After figuring in money from the town fund balance and work the Highway Department could do, the board concluded it would cost the town about $250,000.

Town Supervisor Robin Andrews said last month that a $250,000 loan would cost the town $22,000 annually over 15 years. Last week Mr. Preusser said that up to $12,000 of that annual cost could come from the Highway Fund.

Councilman Cliff Weigelt said that he met with the town’s engineer and that the board had to make a decision one way or another due to a “time frame issue.”

“We have to move forward with this,” he said.

Mr. Preusser said taking the next step means paying for the design of the new bridge, the permits from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, obtaining easements and preparing the bid package. Together these items would cost the town roughly $17,000.

The board has been met with resistance to the idea of replacing the bridge, primarily from Ian Nitschke, chair of the Town’s Historic Preservation Advisory Committee. At several board meetings he has cited the historic value of the old bridge, requesting that it be left alone or repaired rather than replaced with a new bridge. Mr. Nitschke says an engineering firm called Biggs Consulting would be willing to come and look at the bridge and do conduct tests to determine what would be needed to repair the current structure. But that would cost $28,900 for just the initial consultation.

Mr. Preusser thanked Mr. Nitschke for his “passion and input,” but advised that the board should continue down the path of replacing the bridge.

Mr. Weigelt agreed, calling the $28,900 initial fee for the consultation proposed by Mr. Nitschke “astronomical.”

“It’s an old bridge that needs to be replaced and we can afford to replace it,” he said.

A town resident who lives near the closed bridge asked why the town wants to reopen it. He appealed to the board to keep it closed, saying its historic value attracts walkers and bike riders.

Ms. Andrews said the bridge is a part of the town highway system and needs to be maintained. Councilman Michael Johnston added that it is a safety issue, since keeping it closed limits the access of emergency responders.

“I’ve been 27 years behind the wheel of an ambulance and time is of the essence,” he said. “I’m looking for the safety of the residents of the town.”

He called it a town asset that has been neglected for several years.

Mr. Nitschke said it’s also a historic asset.

“You’ve been down that path about 27 times and I can agree with that to a certain extent,” replied Mr. Johnston. “But to have the past stand in the way of the future is not a legitimate issue.”

Mr. Nitschke said he doesn’t “buy” the board’s safety concerns.

Ms. Andrews said it’s about both safety and the maintenance of the Town’s road system.

“We own this bridge,” added Mr. Weigelt, visibly annoyed. “If we can replace it, then I want it replaced so the taxpayers of Claverack can use this road safely.”

Mr. Preusser made the motion to commit to the next steps, and the board approved the measure.

Ms. Andrews expressed concern about the costs if the town does follow through with replacing the bridge.

Also at the May 9 board meeting the board:

*Approved the hiring of attorney Jeffrey Baker to provide special counsel in the Planning Board’s process regarding The Big Up, a music festival planned to take place in August on county Route 11 in Claverack. Ms. Andrews said that the original attorney representing Claverack had a conflict.

*Heard Ms. Andrews say that the request to change the zoning for the Claverack School Building has been dropped. Shari Kline, who had made an offer to the Hudson City School district to purchase the Claverack School building on Route 23B next to the library, had requested the Town of Claverack change the zoning of the building so she could operate her linens manufacturing business out of it. It is not clear why the request has been dropped.

*Learned about the Hudson Estuary Watershed Resiliency Project from Theresa Mayhew of the Cornell Cooperative Extension. She said the project, an initiative of the Natural Resources and Environment Program, is about “providing education and resources to communities and streamside landowners in the Hudson Valley to address flooding and stream issues.”

She said that building in flood plains disrupts a stream’s natural way of mitigating floods, since flood plains are important so that floodwaters can spread out. Humans and streams were able to coexist in the past when precipitation was less severe. “But intense precipitation events are changing our relationship with our streams and making our communities more vulnerable to flooding,” she said, citing recent storms such as Irene, Lee, and Superstorm Sandy. The Hudson Estuary Watershed Resiliency Project was developed to help landowners and communities reduce the risk of flooding and its potential for damage, Ms. Mayhew said.

More information can be found at www.hudsonestuaryresilience.net.

The Town Board has rescheduled its next workshop meeting for June 4 at 7 p.m. at the Town Office.

 

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