NEWFANE -- Officials have set a special town meeting for Oct. 30 to determine whether the Selectboard can purchase a property that was left isolated by Tropical Storm Irene.
If voters approve the purchase of 14 Lynch Bridge Road, it will be the next step in freeing up federal bridge-replacement money so that it can be used for a variety of town-improvement projects.
Up to $455,220 in Federal Emergency Management Agency funding is at stake, and Selectboard members have taken pains to deliberate potential uses for that cash while also adhering to an unexpectedly tight deadline.
"We are trying to be as transparent as possible with this process," said Jon Mack, Selectboard chairman.
When Irene’s flooding devastated Newfane in late August 2011, Lynch Bridge was among the casualties. It would cost an estimated $562,000 to rebuild the bridge, and FEMA funding is available.
But Selectboard members are not keen on spending that kind of cash for a span that serves only one property. Instead, they’ve been negotiating to purchase the property off Dover Road while also attempting to determine alternative, eligible uses for the FEMA bridge funding.
Those two efforts now are converging. At the 6 p.m. Oct. 30 meeting at Williamsville Hall, voters could authorize the Selectboard to buy the Lynch Bridge Road parcel "for a price not to exceed $190,000."
Officials have said they have surplus money available to
Mack said the town does not yet have a formal purchase agreement in place. But he said the property owner has indicated "verbal willingness" to sell the plot to the town during negotiations.
The Selectboard could have acted to decommission the road without buying the property, a move that may have prompted a legal battle. However, Mack said "we have always felt that the right way to do this was to compensate the property owner."
While working through purchase talks, the Selectboard also has been seeking guidance on what other projects the bridge money could go toward. That search became a lot more urgent in mid-August when the board was informed of a pending Sept. 1 deadline for submitting those alternate projects to FEMA.
That was a surprise, as Selectboard members had been operating under a schedule that would have allowed them to deliberate and gather information for another six months.
Suddenly, "we had two weeks to produce something that shows how we were going to spend $450,000," Mack said.
State officials helped the town secure an extension to Oct. 5. But that still wasn’t much time to produce the level of detail FEMA requires, Mack said.
"That is very extensive documentation, and a kind of documentation that we’ve never done on our own," he said.
Nonetheless, Mack expects that deadline to be met. The Selectboard on Sept. 19 worked to consolidate its alternative-project wish list.
"Our goal there was to come to an agreement as best we could," Mack said. "We’re under tremendous deadline pressure from FEMA."
The board decided on several projects that could be funded with bridge money:
-- Replacing a Mack truck: $217,000.
-- Rehabilitating several town roads: $35,000.
-- Renovating the town office: $175,000.
-- Renovating Williamsville Hall: $45,000.
"Everything on that list is urgently needed by the town," Mack said. "There’s nothing on there that is fluff."
It’s not clear how soon FEMA officials may decide whether the Lynch Bridge money can be spent on those projects. But Mack said officials are hoping to "know a great deal more" by the Oct. 30 town meeting.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.