C’ville: Flood-ravaged bridge will be removed


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Pieces of trees lie across one side of the East Academy Street bridge in McGraw Wednesday, left there when water from Smith Brook overflowed the bridge in July. Cortlandville officials say the damaged bridge will be demolished, but it is not clear whether the structure will be replaced.

Staff Reporter

McGRAW — After July floods hammered the East Academy Street Bridge over Smith Brook, it became apparent something would have to be done to mitigate the concerns of nearby residents. For the moment, the only option appears to be the removal of the bridge itself.
“The best solution at this point is to pull that bridge out and make (East Academy Street) a dead end,” Cortlandville Town Supervisor Dick Tupper said at a Town Board meeting Wednesday morning.
The McGraw Village Board voted for the removal of the bridge at its meeting Tuesday night, where Mayor Jay Cobb said a poll had been taken of the residents.
“Their general consensus opinion was that they thought it would be better that the bridge be gone, so that’s what the board voted for,” Cobb said this morning. “We discussed all the options. Dead-ending a street is never a good thing. It’s not good for traffic flow, and sometimes you need that extra access. And when you do this, you create a lot of problems downstream (such as erosion). You have to take all those factors into account.”
Although the removal of the bridge would not prevent the creek from flooding, Tupper said that it would eliminate the danger caused by debris clogging the area underneath the bridge.
A study by the state Department of Transportation determined that although the bridge can hold traffic, there are some problems that need to be addressed, said town Highway Superintendent Carl Bush.
The board has asked Bush to put the demolition project out to bid, and will determine how to proceed from that point.
The cost of repairing the bridge, which is in need of a new railing and guardrail on the upstream side — among other work — would fall between $750,000 and $1 million, Tupper said.
Cortlandville owns the East Academy Street bridge, which is about 24 feet long, while the county is responsible for any bridge longer than 25 feet.
After meetings with representatives from Cortlandville earlier this week, Cortland County Administrator Scott Schrader said it became apparent, due to legal and engineering issues surrounding retaining walls and the relatively-low volume of traffic over the bridge —about 500 vehicles per day — that the county would not be interested in helping to repair or replace the bridge.
Although a new bridge would most likely exceed the 25-foot boundary, making it a county bridge, Schrader and town attorney John Folmer were unsure who would be responsible for a new bridge.
The town will look into replacing the bridge at some point in the future, Bush said, but will have to look for state and federal grants that may be difficult to secure in light of the small size of the bridge and the small number of vehicles that use it. Until then, the street will remain a dead end.
Other possible temporary or permanent options may include a pedestrian-only bridge, Bush said.
The bridge has been closed since the June flooding, with white-and-orange signs and a pile of soil, tree bits and chunks of cinder blocks in the center to prevent cars from crossing.
Carrie Kenney of 30 E. Academy St. said she had attended the Village Board meeting Tuesday night.
“We’re very grateful that steps have been taken to correct the problem,” Kenney said Wednesday afternoon about Cortlandville’s decision.
Ken Roundy lives at 22 Spring St., across from the East Academy Street bridge. He said he had been used to seeing quite a bit of traffic moving across the bridge and used it quite often himself. But if the only way to replace it would be to raise his taxes, he does not feel replacing the bridge would be worthwhile.
“The bridge is a problem, but the creek is a bigger problem,” Roundy said. “If the bridge doesn’t stop it (the debris moving down the creek), what will?”
Ashley and Shawnee McAdam of Spring Street said not being able to drive across the bridge has been an inconvenience, but they’re happy to hear something will be done to address the flooding problems.
“I think it will be safer. There’s just too much water and debris,” Ashley, 18, said on the porch of her home Wednesday, “and the bridge just gets in the way when the water is flowing.”
Flooding has hit the McAdams several times, and the girls said they’ve had to replace two washer-dryers in the past few years.
“Every time it rains, you have to worry about whether it’s going to flood or not. It’s scary,” said Shawnee, 16. “I just hope it works and it doesn’t flood any more, if they take the bridge out.”
Tupper and Tim Neff of 36 E. Academy St., told the Town Board and the public Wednesday they did have some reservations about creating a dead-end on East Academy Street.
The closing of the bridge won’t affect emergency response time, Assistant Fire Chief Terry Horner said this morning.
If there were problems with another bridge in the village that prevented emergency response, Cobb said there is a possibility that one side of town could be cut-off during an emergency.
“We would have a contingency plan, either a mutual aid plan with another town or taking the long way up Ridge Road,” Horner said.
School busing routes will also have to be altered to accommodate the new traffic pattern, said Chuck Lacey, McGraw Central School’s head mechanic. He doesn’t foresee any problems.
Sunday morning, McGraw residents will meet in Recreation Park to join in a town-wide cleanup of debris in the creeks, which Cobb said will be done with hand tools.



Conservative candidates meet public

Staff Reporter

Conservative Party candidates for federal and state political offices met with conservative-leaning voters from Cortland and Tompkins counties at an informal gathering in Cortland on Wednesday afternoon.
The event at the Port Watson Business Park at 115 Port Watson St. was co-sponsored by the Conservative Party and the Cortland County Republican Party.
In attendance were state Sen. Jim Seward (R-Milford); Republican candidate for the 24th Congressional District, state Sen. Ray Meier (R-Western); John Callaghan, son of state comptroller candidate J. Christopher Callaghan; and acting state Supreme Court Justice Dennis McDermott, who is running for the seat in November.
Tompkins County Conservative Party Chairman Tom Straight, said that his party agrees with Republicans on most fronts, with a special emphasis on supporting the Bill of Rights — especially the 2nd Amendment “right to bear arms” — and protecting the traditional concept of marriage between a man and woman.
George Vignaux, of Tompkins County, identified a concern that several others expressed during the meet-and-greet.
“My state should get out of my life, and leave me alone,” Vignaux said as he spoke with Seward in a vacant office — Vignaux leaned on a single-barreled shotgun (unloaded, of course) that doubled as a cane.
Cliff Norte, of McLean, identified with these sentiments as he spoke with Seward.
“Everything I try to do in this state, either they tax the hell out of it or they regulate it until it doesn’t work,” said Norte, who is a private builder. “New York keeps churning and churning out new laws.”
In addition to what they believe are excessive taxes, Norte and Vignaux only half-jokingly referred symbolic proposals that the state Legislature throw out two laws for every new one that is enacted.
“I appreciate the sentiment,” Seward said after his conversation with Norte, “because we are overtaxed, overregulated, and we do have too many laws in the state. I’d be the first to admit that.”
“People need to realize that we’re not competitive here (in New York) anymore,” Norte said after the meeting as several residents discussed the current political climate. “A lot of people are leaving New York … Either they’re real tired of getting punished (by excessive regulations or high taxes) and it just bothers them, or it’s a financial concern … You’re driving out good people.”
“Some of your concerns about the state, I cannot argue with,” Seward told Norte.
Norte was particularly candid during his conversation with Seward, and even referred to the tax rebate that Seward had supported as “toilet paper.”
“If you haven’t solved the problem, Band-Aids aren’t going to work,” Norte added.
Seward said although he has no opponent in this election, he enjoys campaigning nonetheless.
“I enjoy talking to people and hearing what’s on their minds. It makes me a better senator,” Seward said.
Meier spoke with several residents.
“Really, the concerns are the same all over,” said Meier, who has campaigned against New York’s “tax-and-spend” culture. “People talk about the same things all over, which is surprising considering the size of the 24th District.”
“We’ve spoken with probably half a dozen folks who came out today, and I think their concerns are indicative of the concerns of New Yorkers all across the state,” said John Callaghan. The candidate is the Saratoga County treasurer, and was unable to attend the session due to a conflicting meeting of the New York State Association of County Treasurers and Finance Officers, of which he is president.
“The state should only spend what the state taxpayers can afford,” Callaghan said as he described his father’s stance. “We’ve got to rein in the costs of government. It’s the only way to get taxes down and create real economic development.”
Callaghan said that the session was an excellent way to not only speak with the voters, but talk with other Conservative candidates a bit.
Rick Brown, of Cortland, had met with Meier and Seward, as well as with Callaghan.
“I spoke extensively with John Callaghan, Mr. Callaghan’s son,” Brown said, “and his viewpoint is in keeping with mine. We’ve got to tighten our belts and keep taxes in line.”
Brown moved off and began speaking with Justice McDermott about some recent personal legal boondoggles.
McDermott said candidates for the courts are prohibited, on ethical grounds, from discussing their stances on issues or how they would vote if a certain issue came up, but many times voters like to learn about how the judicial system operates.
“Every year, I think people seem to be alarmed by the huge verdicts in personal injury cases,” McDermott said, pointing out that it is the responsibility of the juries, often acting on their emotions, to decide the size of the dollar amount awarded to the victorious plaintiff. “They seem to be relieved that it’s the juries and not the judges who (determine the size of the verdict).”




The public doesn’t always get a say

Staff Reporter

VIRGIL — Last week, angry town residents criticized the Town Board’s handling of public comments at its July 13 meeting.
“Now we’re not even granted the privilege of the floor in most cases,” said Eric Trinkle, chairman of the town Zoning Board of Appeals.
During an open forum prior to the Aug. 10 board meeting, town residents argued they did not have enough say during the July 13 open forum nor during that night’s board meeting. They were especially upset because the zoning law was the topic of discussion, they said.
Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, which is responsible for overseeing and advising with regard to the Open Meetings Law, said board members have no legal responsibility to ensure the public is heard at public meetings.
In fact, Virgil is kind enough to even offer the public an open forum in the first place, he said.
“They’re actually doing the public a favor,” Freeman said.
On July 13, a crowd flocked to the board meeting to learn about and discuss a committee’s proposals to update the town’s zoning law. The committee had worked on the new plan for 2 1/2 years.
Kathy Jensen, a member of the town’s newly active ethics committee, argued Aug. 10 that the public was barely able to communicate its views at that forum.
Only a couple of people were able to share their zoning concerns, she said. In her opinion, the town should have limited each speaker to three minutes.
“That would have given 10 people time to talk rather than someone for 20 minutes,” she said Friday morning
Trinkle argued at the Aug. 10 forum that the time of the open hearing poses problems. Since it comes before the Town Board meeting — from 7 to 7:30 p.m. —residents cannot discuss items on that night’s agenda. They simply are not aware of them, he said.
But Freeman said that while Jensen’s and Trinkle’s concerns might have merit, town boards are under no obligation to offer public forums.
Plus, in regards to Trinkle’s concern, Town Supervisor James Murphy said the items on the agenda are available the Tuesday before the Thursday meetings.