Chatham cuts bridge speed, ponders gas pipeline

CHATHAM – The Town Board voted last week to lower the speed limit on the Albany Turnpike Bridge to 5 mph after residents complained about the hazard created by the one-lane bridge. The fate of another bridge in East Chatham remains in limbo.

The board also heard from a group opposed to a plan to run a new natural gas pipeline through the town.

The Albany Turnpike bridge, also known as the East Chatham Bridge, was recently replaced by CSX Transportation, the company that owns the train tracks beneath the bridge. The new bridge has one lane unlike the old span, which had two. But the speed limit was kept at 30 mph. Since it was reopened last spring residents have come to many meetings to say the poor sight lines on the approach headed from Route 295 toward Old Chatham make crossing the span very dangerous. Drivers can’t see whether a vehicle is coming from the opposite direction until they have driven onto the bridge.

Town Supervisor Jesse DeGroodt said at the August 21 meeting that the board is waiting for designs from the town engineering firm, Barton and Loguidice, which recently completed a survey of the roads around the bridge. The board hopes to move forward with plans to change the entrance to the bridge from Route 295 so that drivers reduce their speed when approaching the bridge from that direction.

Highway Superintendent Joe Rickert warned people not to walk over the bridge, saying that the sidewalk that was built as part of the new bridge is closed. “If you go on the sidewalk, you go at our own risk,” he said at the meeting.

The board also heard from a resident who lives near the White Mills Bridge and asked when construction would resume on that project. This bridge also carries traffic over the CSX tracks, but reconstruction of the White Mills Bridge is being paid for with state and federal money with small amount contributed by the town. Construction has stopped following a determination by CSX that there is too little clearance between the tracks and the new bridge. The town board is waiting to hear from CSX on whether a variance is feasible that would allow the project to move ahead.

Mr. DeGroodt told the resident that he has heard nothing from CSX, even though he has reached out to the company several times. “I am personally disgusted by the whole process,” said Mr. DeGroodt. He said the clearance was a matter of only two inches and that there was a similar issue with the East Chatham bridge, but construction had moved ahead on that project.

The supervisor said he has also had little success contacting another company, Kinder Morgan. That firm owns a natural gas pipeline that runs through the northern part of the county, including Chatham, and describes itself as the fourth largest energy company in North America.

Kinder Morgan sent a letter to board members January saying that it plans to put another pipeline through sections of the town as part of the Northeast Expansion Project. In the letter the company said the new pipeline will go through New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire.

“As configured, the proposed project will result in the construction of approximately 250 miles of new pipeline,” the letter says.

Mr. DeGroodt said at last week’s meeting that company representatives called to tell him they would attend a meeting but never came. Mr. DeGroodt said he has reached out to the company many times to invite officials to attend town meetings, but no one from Kinder Morgan has yet showed up.

Over a dozen members of a group hoping to stop the pipeline through the county attended the meeting, asking the board to adopt a non-binding resolution saying the board is against having the pipeline go through the town.

New Lebanon resident Bruce Shenker made a presentation on behalf of the group called Stop NY Fracked Gas Pipeline. He talked about the safety threats he said could result from having a large pipe carrying natural gas obtained through Hydraulic Fracturing, or fracking, across the property of local residents. He said the natural gas in the pipes would be mixed with other chemicals that could cause harm.

“A pipeline through your land is not going to increase your property values,” he told the board.

Mr. Shenker said that the new pipeline would triple the amount of gas going through the area, which already has two pipelines running through it. He also said that the gas in the new pipeline will not be used for heating homes and businesses in the county, and he questioned whether the thickness of the pipe that will be used in the rural areas like Chatham would be safe enough.

Mr. Shenker and other members of his group said that several towns in Massachusetts have adopted resolutions similar to the group has requested that Chatham adopt. The pipeline opponents said that Governor Deval Patrick recently changed his position from supporting the pipelines to questioning the project.

The board plans to discuss the resolution further at a special workshop meeting Thursday, September 4 at 7 p.m. Mr. DeGroodt said the board plans to hold that meeting at Town Hall on Route 295, but will switch it to a larger venue if needed.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .


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