Community anxious for Phoenicia bridge repair

By Jay Braman Jr.
It has been just over two months since the region was hit by back-to-back flood events that crippled many local businesses. Even though one of those communities has recovered physically, its economy still has a long way to go to return to normal.

Making matters worse, there is no date in sight for the repair of the main access to the business district, leaving merchants nervous about catching the winter trade.
Phoenicia was hit pretty hard by flooding at the end of August, but it’s real estate fared remarkably well.

But has prosperity returned? Is it too soon to tell?

While it may still be unclear how Main Street Business has fared, many are really hoping for a good ski season to help balance the financial scales, scales that tipped to the dark side just before the important Labor Day weekend and for much of the fall foliage season.

Michael Koegel, owner of Mama’s Boy Market and member of the Phoenicia Business Association, says business is off a little but he stops short of blaming the flooding.

“There are so many possible reasons why, that it’s hard to blame one thing,” he said.
But as the winter begins to appear on the horizon and visions of all those cars filled with skiers rushing to and from the slopes on Route 28, Koegel fears that the flooding did deliver one critical blow when it damaged the Bridge Street bridge.

“Phoenicia, having lost its main entrance into town off Route 28, is now our biggest concern,” he said this week. “We need to get that bridge fixed and the road re-opened ASAP. Ski season certainly helps, but it’s a lot of day trippers who we only catch on their way in or out of town.”

On Tuesday Shandaken Highway Superintendent Eric Hofmiester, who also runs a hardware store on Main Street, said that the Bridge Street bridge is owned by Ulster County and it is not yet a priority for repair.

“Not having that bridge there cuts the traffic right down and business gets hurt. No question,” he said.

To be fair, the county crews are busy elsewhere in town repairing bridges in places where residents are using either detours or temporary spans. And since Phoenicia still has two ingress/egress routes the Bridge Street bridge will have to wait.

For Linda Blank, who runs the Black Bear Campsite with her husband George, waiting is okay, for a little awhile.

Blank’s business is right next to the bridge. The street has been turned into a box canyon due to the closure of the bridge, leaving the Black Bear Campground so far off the beaten path that they closed right after the flooding and not reopened. “We lost one third of our season,” she said.
Blanks hopes for better days in 2012 when the campground opens in the spring, but expects that the county will have made repairs by then. “We need that bridge open,” she said. “It’s not even that badly damaged.”