Newfane hopes for bridge advice from state agencies

Tuesday April 23, 2013

NEWFANE -- State officials are scheduled to visit two bridge-washout sites here next week, and Newfane leaders are hoping the meeting will help them finally move forward with rebuilding those spans.

Work has been delayed on the Hunter Brook Bridge and Lynch Bridge projects because town officials are concerned about how much the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay for the redesigned structures.

On May 3, officials from Vermont Emergency Management, the state Agency of Natural Resources and the state Agency of Transportation will meet at both bridge sites and attempt to provide some advice.

"We consider this meeting a good thing -- the fact that we'll get most of the people involved in this process in one place," Selectboard Chairman Jon Mack said, "Maybe we can get some direct guidance and get this ironed out."

Both bridges had been situated off Dover Road and were destroyed when Tropical Storm Irene struck in August 2011. A temporary Hunter Brook Bridge has been installed.

The town has a design for a new, permanent Hunter Brook span. But the Selectboard repeatedly has delayed awarding a construction bid due to concerns that FEMA may not fully reimburse Newfane for a bridge that is larger than the original.

The same concerns carry over into the Lynch Bridge project, which has not yet been designed.

A FEMA spokesman has said the agency must review the projects and evaluate each "on its own merits" before making a funding decision.

As has been the case in other towns still struggling with post-Irene repairs, Newfane officials have found themselves attempting to carefully navigate among sometimes-conflicting state and federal guidelines.

"The town is constantly caught between a rock and a hard place on this," Mack said. "We don't know, at the end of the day, whether we're going to get the necessary approvals."

Last week, the Selectboard again delayed opening Hunter Brook Bridge bids -- this time until May 16. But Selectboard member Christine Druke expressed some optimism that the May 3 meeting with state officials will resolve the matter.

"There's a lot of determination to have a plan in place," Druke said, adding that, "I'm going to make a prediction ... this will be the last time we postpone the bids."

While state officials are in town, Selectboard members also want to show them the nearby Hickey Bridge.

That span was not washed away by Irene. But town officials say they're getting conflicting advice about repairing storm-related damage.

"We're supposed to get paid by FEMA just to dump what they call slurry, which is basically cement, in the rocks that are there now," Selectboard member Todd Lawley said.

But Lawley, who also serves as town road foreman, said state officials have advised him that more substantial repairs are needed and the FEMA-recommended repair job is "never going to work."

Selectboard members noted that -- without further clarification or negotiation -- Newfane could leave itself open to financial liability if the town simply follows state officials' advice at Hickey Bridge.

"The town will end up footing the bill," Lawley said.

In another bridge-related matter that is not connected to Irene, Lawley told fellow Selectboard members that there was "bad news" about the deteriorated River Road Bridge: Repairs could cost $300,000, and a state grant for the project would cover a maximum of $175,000.

"That's something we'll have to put into our capital budget," Lawley said.

He said the bridge has been inspected by the state and -- with a weight limit of 16,000 pounds having previously been imposed -- is safe for travel for the time being.

"It needs to be fixed, but there's no danger," Lawley said.

Mike Faher can be reached at or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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