Newfane May Not Rebuild Washed Out Bridge

06/18/12 7:34AM By Nancy Eve Cohen
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VPR/Nancy Eve Cohen
The site of the former Lynch Bridge in Newfane that was ripped out by the floodwaters of Irene.

Town officials in Newfane are discussing the possibility of not rebuilding a bridge that was washed out by Irene. If it isn't rebuilt there's a possibility the town could get about $450,000 from FEMA to spend on projects not related to the flood. Newfane could be the first town in Vermont to apply for funding for what FEMA calls "alternate projects"

Standing above the Rock River, Jon Mack, the chair of Newfane's select board, said on August 28th the river rose, ripping out everything in its path, including the Lynch Bridge.

"You see a piece of the abutment, that huge piece of concrete over there?" said Mack. "That's about all that's left!"

There's no way to drive across now to a house on the other side. The estimated cost to replace the bridge? $562,000

"My personal opinion, and I'm not speaking for the select board, is that it is to the town's benefit to do something alternative rather than build a bridge for one homeowner," said Mack.

The town may be able to do that.

A little-known provision in FEMA's public assistance program will pay for projects, even ones unrelated to Irene, if replacing flood-damaged infrastructure, like the Lynch Bridge, is not considered in the public's best interest. In this case, Newfane could get about $450,000 for other projects.

But first there's the question of the bridge and the house on the other side. The town sent a letter to the owner offering to buy the property.

"The letter said we are making this offer to you, contingent on the approval of the town," said Jon Mack.

The town hasn't heard back yet from the owner. And it's not clear which projects the townspeople would want FEMA to fund instead.

Newfane Town Clerk Gloria Cristelli opens up a hatch door in the town offices, pointing to a problem in the crawlspace below.

"Looking down you see the reflection over here," Cristelli said. "That's the standing water." 

Cristelli said the water, which was here long before Irene, has rotted the sills and made it impossible to weatherize the building. She'd like to get it fixed.

Newfane recently sent FEMA a list of projects, including this one, to see what would be eligible for funding. Also on the list are a new dump truck, the cost of paving roads and digitizing property tax maps.

But some people in town feel the money should go only to flood related damage, like 71-year-old Ellie Applegate.

"Such as roads or I know there are property owners who have significant disputes of lost land and things like that," said Applegate.

But it's not clear if something like that would be eligible for these FEMA funds.

If the town gets the money Jon Mack said it would be a substantial band-aid, but not a windfall.

"We certainly are anything but exuberant," Mack said. "It's not going to make up for the damage that's been done."

But the money would be welcome in Newfane, which will be on the hook for 3 to 5 percent of the cost of Irene-related repairs, which currently total nearly $3 million.

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