The remnants of the old Ponquogue Bridge, left behind when the drawbridge was replaced with the concrete bridge nearly three decades ago, has served as a popular fishing pier for Southampton Town residents for the past quarter century.
But 85 years of natural deterioration, and a devastating blow from Hurricane Sandy in 2012, have spelled the end of the bridge’s second life.
Earlier this month, the Southampton Town Board announced that it would shut down public use of both the north and south sides of the former bridge while it devises a plan for the removal of the crumbling old structures, and tries to find an affordable way to restore public access to popular fishing grounds that the bridge’s stumps provide.
“There’s good fishing there and, for 26 years, we had it as a great fishing pier,” Southampton Town Superintendent of Parks and Recreation Chris Bean recently told Town Board members. “But there’s been more deterioration. It’s time we make this thing right.”
The town has said that it would like to remove the last remaining pieces of the old bridge and replace them with a network of floating docks to form fishing piers on both sides of the navigation channel that splits eastern and western Shinnecock Bay. But the estimated costs have been a speed bump, with purse strings in the town tight and federal Hurricane Sandy recovery aid slow in coming.
The town has applied for federal aid to help pay for removing the bridge remnants; the total cost of removing what is left of the former drawbridge, and installing new fishing piers, would be about $1.5 million, town officials have estimated.
But the Hurricane Sandy funds still have not been awarded and the town has been reluctant to pay for the work itself because it may lessen its chances of getting reimbursed by the federal government.
“To our and many others’ great frustration, that money has not been forthcoming for this and many other things,” Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said. “It’s $1.5 million to do what we would love to do.”
Deputy Supervisor Frank Zappone told board members that the town needs to prepare a capital management plan for the work, so it is ready to proceed if the federal grants are not forthcoming.
Town Engineer and Director of Facilities Management Christine Fetten recommended to the board that the stone and concrete footings, and roadways leading to the old bridge’s span, be left in place so that they could be utilized as anchors for new fishing piers.
In the meantime, the condition of the existing stumps of the former drawbridge continues to deteriorate. Storm waves battered the northern portion of the bridge, causing it to collapse entirely in the middle of the remaining span. But age and natural forces, the latter coming in the form of tiny wood-boring worms, have been the real enemy of both sides of the bridge to the point that the Town Board decided that they must now be blocked off entirely.
“The marine worms … bore into the wood and make that pile a lacework, which reduces its [weight]-bearing capability,” Ms. Fetten told the board members. “In my professional opinion, I do not believe that the bridge structures themselves are salvageable, nor do I think they should be used.”
A small metal floating platform tethered to the abutment of the old bridge’s southern portion will remain as an access point for anglers, and the boat launch adjacent to the southern side of the bridge will still be accessible as well.