The Sagaponack Village Board is investigating legal avenues for the village to take ownership and responsibility of a cherished old bridge over Sagg Pond, to head off plans by Southampton Town to replace the bridge’s original guardrails as part of renovation plans.
Taking over the bridge would be a last resort, Village Board members said on Tuesday, but since Town Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor has showed no signs of being willing to consider alternatives to the plans for the renovation he presented to residents in December, the board said that taking over the bridge may be their only option to save what they say is a cherished part of the village’s character, history and landscape.
“The highway superintendent has said that if the village wants the bridge … he would be happy to give it to us,” Mayor Donald Louchheim said. “We’re trying to see if there would be any legal barriers to doing that.”
One obstacle could be that not all of the span lies within the village’s boundaries. The 90-foot bridge is only about a third of the causeway that stretches across the narrows at the northern end of Sagg Pond. The village’s boundary is defined as the middle of the pond, which puts 55 feet of the bridge in Sagaponack Village and the other 35 feet in Bridgehampton, which is unincorporated Southampton Town. The entirety of the bridge could be given to the village with Town Board consent—something the mayor said Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst has said she would be willing to present to the board.
If the village were to take over the bridge, Village Engineer Drew Bennett has estimated it could cost between $750,000 and $890,000 to do the renovations and restore the existing guard rails rather than replacing them. The village’s total budget for the 2014 fiscal year is just $789,000.
Trustee Bill Barbour noted that the engineer’s report on the town’s renovation plans says that the 90-year-old bridge is structurally sound but in need of repairs. Mr. Barbour said the village could approach the renovations piecemeal if it were to take them on itself, to spread the costs out over time. It could also bond for the project and repay the costs over several years through tax revenues.
“But I would hope it does not come to that,” the mayor said.
The town’s renovation plans call for the bulkheads that protect the bridge footings to be rebuilt, for the roadway to be repaved and for the guard rails to be replaced, at a cost of just under $1 million. The town has already appropriated $500,000 for the work, and a federal transportation grant, secured for the town by U.S. Representative Tim Bishop, has been earmarked to cover the rest of the cost. But Mr. Gregor has said that the conditions of the federal grant require that the work done complies with modern state highway codes, which demand that the bridge’s guardrails be upgraded.
The village has proposed that the town simply pass on using the grant, freeing it from having to comply with the modern codes, and let the village take on whatever the project costs above the $500,000 the town has committed to the work. Mr. Gregor has said that he is not willing to give up the grant funding.
“The village has made it clear to the town that if it were willing to forgo the grant and just make the repairs, we’d be willing to pay the up-charge,” Mr. Louchheim said on Tuesday. “Why do we need railings that are rated for the Long Island Expressway on a bucolic country road where we have not had any accidents?”
The mayor said that he has personally asked Mr. Bishop to look into what the grant money requires in terms of addressing design guidelines and whether there would be a way for the state to waive those requirements. He said that Mr. Bennett had read state codes and was of the opinion that if the entire bridge was not being brought up to modern standards, which the plans do not call for, then components of it could be left substandard as well.
But if none of the options being explored are able to change the highway department’s plans, the mayor said taking over the bridge would be a step the village should seriously consider. In the 1970s the town had done exactly that, after waves of protest to a county plan to replace the bridge.
“That’s what we’re here for, that’s why we’re a village, this really is the kind of defining measure,” the mayor said. “Twenty-five years ago, when the town took it over, they made an implicit commitment to preserve the goddamn bridge. And now they’re just reneging on that.”