CLAVERACK–Pleas to save the historic Millbrook Road Bridge continue to be made to the town, as a petition with 70 signatures was presented to the Town Board last week.
The concrete arch bridge has been closed for several years after it was deemed unsafe. The closure has caused traffic to use private roads and property associated with the town the Highway Garage not meant to be used as a public road. To address the issue, the Claverack Town Board has been exploring options to replace the bridge with a stronger, safer, two-lane structure. But opponents, including Tim Smith and the town’s Historic Preservation Advisory Committee chariman, Ian Nitschke, have resisted that approach and called instead for the town to explore ways to restore the original span, citing its historic value. Mr. Nitschke has said previous meetings that he believes the bridge could be put on the National Register of Historic Places and can qualify for grants to help pay for the restoration.
Mr. Smith, who also serves on the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee, told the board last week that he collected the 70 signatures from town residents, and asked that the town hold off on any action for a year while the committee works on a plan to restore the bridge.
“Give us a year. We have a really good plan,” he said.
He said the bridge could be restored with one lane for vehicles or as a pedestrian walkway.
But town Supervisor Cliff Weigelt said the issue is time, and that the town could not let the traffic issue go for another year. He said if the board delays replacing the bridge the town would have to update and pave Orchard Road, a dirt road, to accommodate the rerouted traffic. He estimated that as a $320,000 project, saying that would burden town taxpayers.
Supervisor Weigelt also said grant requests have already been submitted to Congressman Chris Gibson’s office for funding to replace the bridge. If the town receives approval for the grants, the supervisor said it wouldn’t be wise to turn them down in favor of working on a plan to restore the old bridge.
“I understand you’ve been working very hard. If we get the grant, what can we do?” Mr. Weigelt said. “I’m asking the board that we continue forward and see if we can get the grant at this point.”
Board member Katy Cashen said the town should “explore all options.”
“We have been looking at all options but the time is getting to the point where decisions have to be made one way or another,” the supervisor replied.
Board member Bill Gerlach asked Supervisor Weigelt to check whether the grants may also be used for restoration. He added that he doesn’t think the town has “the track record” to take on another historic project. He cited the Shaw Bridge, which was put on the National Register in 1980, yet still has not been restored since it was closed in the mid-1990s. The town is currently seeking funding to restore that structure, a double-spanned Whipple bowstring truss bridge built in 1870.
“It’s very hard for me to justify to the taxpayers that we’re going to put the [Millbrook] bridge on the register and just let it sit there while we try to get money from the state when there’s no guarantee we could,” said Supervisor Weigelt. He said he can give the committee “a month or two” while the town waits for word from Congressman Gibson’s office regarding the grant for replacement.
Mr. Nitschke said he believes that it would be easier to obtain grant funding to restore the bridge rather than replace it.
Also at the March 13 board meeting, the board:
•Heard a presentation from groundwater specialist Steve Winkley from the New York Rural Water Association. Mr. Winkley talked about the Ground Water Source Protection Program, saying there is not enough information on groundwater resources in upstate New York. He has been mapping and taking inventory of well data so groundwater conditions could be better understood. His focus has been on Claverack, Ghent and Chatham at no cost to the towns. He hopes to have a report by the end of the year with recommendations on protecting groundwater
•Appointed Rick Gerlach to the Planning Board
•Heard Supervisor Weigelt say that there is an agreement for the town to use Greenport’s speed monitoring sign. He said there have been complaints about speeding on certain roads, so the sign will be used to help enforce speed limits.
•Heard Supervisor Weigelt say the town is starting a 6-month trial with Veridian Energy. “We’re very happy with this because, besides the fact that it saves us money, the energy the town uses will be 50% more green energy than the state mandates,” he said.
•Heard Ms. Cashen say that this year’s ski program was “a huge success.” She thanked the volunteers for their help and also thanked Town Clerk Mary Hoose and Deputy Town Clerk Lauren Bell. She said she also plans to draft a letter thanking last year’s 225th Anniversary Committee for the organization of last year’s events and celebrations.