Friday November 9, 2012

NEWFANE -- After much debate, it appears Lynch Bridge will be rebuilt.

With a resounding "no" voice vote, residents on Thursday night rejected a town proposal to purchase a property at 14 Lynch Bridge Road left isolated by Tropical Storm Irene.

That means officials will move forward with replacing the bridge leading to that home, and the Selectboard will abandon plans to pursue other uses for federal money that's been earmarked for the bridge.

"We'll go back and tell FEMA, ‘We want to build a bridge,'" Selectboard Chairman Jon Mack said after the special meeting vote at NewBrook fire station. "Town sentiment was very clear."

Lynch Bridge, off Dover Road in South Newfane, had served just one home before the span was washed out by Irene's severe flooding in August 2011. Replacing the bridge would cost an estimated $562,000, all of which is expected to be covered by federal and state money.

Nonetheless, some Selectboard members were not in favor of such an expenditure. Instead, they had been talking for months about buying the affected property and discontinuing Lynch Bridge Road.

Mack, addressing the crowd before Thursday's vote, reiterated his opposition to rebuilding Lynch Bridge.

"This doesn't seem, in my mind, the best use of a half-million dollars," he said.


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Instead, officials wanted to use up to $455,220 in Federal Emergency Management Agency funding -- money that had been set aside for Lynch Bridge -- for other town improvements.

Such expenditures would have been subject to federal approval. But the Selectboard already had sent a list of possible Lynch Bridge "alternate" projects to FEMA, including:

* Replacing a Mack truck: $217,000.

* Rehabilitating several roads: $35,000.

* Renovating the town office: $175,000.

* Renovating Williamsville Hall: $45,000.

Those expenditures were not up for a vote Thursday. Rather, residents were considering only one question -- whether the town could spend up to $190,000 to buy the Lynch Bridge Road property.

But it was an important question: Mack acknowledged that the town likely would face a legal challenge if the town simply discontinued a road that serves as the only access to a privately-owned home.

"I consider this vote critical to move forward," Mack said

In a presentation that opened the meeting, Mack also offered other details, including the town's intention to eventually resell the 22-acre property if the purchase was completed.

A town purchase of the parcel would have taken it off the tax rolls. But the lost revenue -- $2,672 annually -- would have been relatively small.

However, most of those who spoke during the hour-long meeting were concerned about other, larger issues of financial loss and potential risk.

Chris Williams of Williamsville wondered about the town's ability to eventually sell the property without a bridge to access it.

"The property is worth nothing without a bridge," Williams said. "So, in other words, the town is taking $190,000 of taxpayer money and throwing it away."

He and others also asked about additional costs the town might incur. John Walker of Williamsville wanted to know what would happen to the home if the town did not pay extra money to raze it after buying it.

"Will it be taken over by raccoons?" he asked.

In response, Mack said officials had not yet explored the cost of demolition. It also was unclear whether demolition would have been recommended or necessary.

Frank Suponski of South Newfane said he initially was not in favor of replacing Lynch Bridge, since the former bridge "floated by my house" during Irene.

But he changed his mind after considering what the town's responsibilities would be after buying the Lynch Bridge Road property.

"There's just too much liability factor for the Town of Newfane," Suponski said.

Noting that town officials had expected to use a $183,000 budget surplus to buy the parcel, Suponski suggested the town instead use that cash to purchase the new truck that had been on the "alternate projects" list.

Two Selectboard members also spoke against the purchase. Christine Druke said she is concerned that FEMA officials would decide to not release money for alternate projects.

"I think the risk is way too high for the town in the situation we're in," Druke said.

That situation includes a large amount of borrowing to address Irene repairs. With federal and state reimbursement slow to arrive, Selectboard Vice Chairman Todd Lawley said spending money on buying property "just didn't make sense."

The majority of the crowd agreed.

Mack, while saying he still felt that the town was "walking away from a large benefit," said he respected the vote.

"That's why we meet," he said. "This is democracy."

Selectboard member Gloria Cristelli, who also serves as town clerk, said she's concerned about needed repairs at the town office that might have been paid for with Lynch Bridge money. Though some residents on Thursday suggested borrowing for those projects, it's unclear whether that will happen.

Cristelli, though, said she understood voters' concerns and their collective decision.

"That's the will of the people," she said.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.