By Susan Monteleone
LACKAWAXEN, PA August 24, 2004 If business owners and residents from both the New York and Pennsylvania sides of the historic Roebling Bridge have anything to say about it, road crews wont be closing the bridge anytime soon.
At a meeting last week in Lackawaxen, Pa. which anchors one side of the old Delaware and Hudson Canal aqueduct, across the river from Minisink Ford, NY locals made their anger known.
According to the National Park Service, the Roebling Bridge, which has been closed twice before for concrete work, will once again be closed starting around September 7 for 20 days to redo work with the concrete that is not correct.
Dave Forney, the supt. of the National Park Services Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, noted at the meeting, "The Federal Highway Department has informed us that the decking on the Pennsylvania side of the bridge is failing and needs to be fixed. They originally wanted to close the bridge in April and May, and I told them no, it will be closed in September, when there will be less economic impact on the local businesses."
Forney added that the feds requested that the bridge be closed for a total of 30 days to allow for the new concrete to cure, but Forney told them the bridge would be closed for no more than 20 days.
"We do not like having to close the bridge down again, but we are looking at the long term, he explained. Closing it now for 20 days instead of again next year and the year after that is a lot better plan."
However, business owners and residents did not agree with that sentiment. Former Barryville shopkeeper Gus Oelker stated, "They should not do this. I was in business here for 34 years until I retired, and something like this will just devastate the local business."
Peter Merendino, who owns Il Castello Restaurant in Barryville, also noted, "I get a lot of customers from the Pa. side. They [highway officials] should have done it right the first time. If the concrete was wrong, they should have fixed it."
Sue Holbert, who owns the Lackawaxen House on the Pa. side of the bridge, said, "This closing is going to kill my business. The detour will be 20 miles round-trip. Right now I have people coming to a wedding I have booked, and they will have a hard time getting to me. People can park on the New York side of the bridge and walk across, but what about the elderly and the disabled? They cannot do that. The National Park Service stated that if cars park on the other side, they may be towed away. This is just wrong. The fall is a busy time for us and to have the bridge closed will be terrible."
Also upset is business owner and landlord Dimatri Zaimes: "I lost $23,000-$28,000 in income when they closed the bridge last year. They said it would be closed for 30 days, and it ended up being 100.
We have a petition with over 1,000 signatures asking you not to close the bridge, he continued. The Lackawaxen Town Board has the power to get an injunction and ask them to not close the bridge now but in the winter. The concrete work they need to do can be done in the winter, and it would be less devastating to us. We have no true assurance that this third time they are closing the bridge will only be 20 days it could be 100 or more."
A concern was raised that the same construction crew will be used as well as the same clerk of the works who supervised the past two concrete projects on the bridge, which evidently never fully fixed some of the issues.
Sandy Schultz, assistant supt. of the National Park Services Upper Delaware office, replied, "Yes, we will be using the same contractor. We do have a guarantee with them and their work, and we will be using the same clerk of the works. The Park Service did ask that asphalt be used instead of the concrete, and we were told that the concrete was better for the project, so that is what was decided upon."
However, Zaimes added, "Let me tell you something about your contractors. They came to me looking for finishing tools, a backhoe and a dump truck with the last project. They told me they got paid $15,000 for the work, and they received the work because they were the lower bid. This is wrong, and the same thing that we are having problems with on the Pa. side is happening on the New York side, so I guess next year the New York side will be closed.
We want a new contractor and a new clerk of the works, Zaimes insisted. This is wrong, and you can do the concrete work in the winter just look it up like I did."
Brian Stuart, the chairman of the Lackawaxen Town Board, then stepped into the conversation: "The Board of Supervisors has no control over federal projects. However, we can do whatever we can to try to insure that the work is done quickly and correctly with the least inconvenience to our residents and neighbors. The board is concerned that the same contractor and clerk of the works will be used, and I will be calling Harry Forbes, the Pike County commissioner, and seeking help from him in regard to this project.
Forney attempted to pacify the crowd one last time, promising, "For as long as I am here, this will be the last time that this bridge will be closed."
But locals are planning further protests against the closing of the bridge and have officially stated they will do whatever they can to keep the bridge open in September.
The Lackawaxen Board of Supervisors also agreed to write a letter to the State Legislature, senators and government agencies seeking help and information to make sure that the work is done correctly and in a timely fashion.
I just want you, the supervisors, to get on this, said Zaimes. You have the power. Please use it.