Editorial: Time for a bridge compromise

Jim and Susan Kelly, owners of Susan’s Pleasant Pheasant Farm Bed and Breakfast in Halcottsville, received a letter last week telling them that Delaware County is starting eminent domain proceedings to take possession of their historic inn.
The reason for this action is so that the Halcottsville bridge, which is situated close to the inn, can be replaced.
No one, including the Kellys, is arguing against the bridge replacement. What the Kellys and their supporters are seeking is a slightly altered bridge route that would not involve the takeover of their inn.
The fact that the county is considering taking the property is unconscionable.
The Kellys’ inn is among the area’s historic treasures. The picturesque setting makes the inn a frequently utilized image in Delaware County’s promotional materials. It is a valuable asset to the area on many levels.
County officials claim that there’s a good chance the inn could be damaged by the bridge project, because of the inn’s proximity to the work.
Moving the bridge path slightly and relocating the Kellys’ septic system would seem to be a suitable compromise.
Why then, won’t the county pursue this or some other alternative?
The words “eminent domain” have riled people in this region since the 1940s, when New York City began taking over properties to make way for the creation of reservoirs to provide water for the city.
It’s extremely ironic that Delaware County would pursue the unpopular path of eminent domain in this situation.
Not only is the aggressive act of eminent domain not warranted, it would likely be very expensive to county taxpayers. Take a unique business in a perfect lakeside setting, add potential revenue losses and the purchase price is likely to provide the Kellys with a comfortable retirement that might approach seven figures.
The Kellys have been told that the project must proceed because “the steel has been ordered.” That seems like a hollow excuse. Orders can be canceled. Ask any manufacturer in a recession.
The path of eminent domain is expensive and unjustified.
The worst part of this situation is that no one seems to be stepping up and saying, “Maybe there’s a better way.”
For the sake of the Kellys, the county’s tourism trade and its taxpayers, Delaware County officials should reconsider this ill-fated plan and come up with a workable Plan B.
It seems that a workable Plan B could involve a partnership similar to the one that helped The Delaware National Bank of Delhi build its branch in Arkville. Because the bank is located in the watershed it faced significant added costs designing and building a parking lot that would control storm water runoff, costs that it would normally not have had to face. To the rescue came the Catskill Watershed Corp. (CWC), which picked up the additional costs and the bank was able to move forward.

Cooperative venture
This would be a perfect place for the CWC to step in and help preserve an important local landmark. If it’s going to cost the county extra money to angle the bridge away from the inn then perhaps the CWC could fund the difference between the original plan and a revised one. It’s exactly the same deal that the CWC made with the bank. Opportunities to save legitimate local businesses don’t float down the river every day. They shouldn’t let this one wash over the dam. We live in an area with a very fragile economy. For the county to deliberately put any legitimate enterprise out of business is mind-boggling. If the county’s desire to press ahead is based on anything other than the economics of the situations then the situation is even worse.
The county’s game of brinkmanship with the Kellys should stop immediately. Middletown Supervisor Len Utter needs to step forward and broker a deal. He’s a former employee of the Delaware County Department of Public Works Bridge Department, he’s a member of the CWC Board of Directors, the inn is in his town and his hatred of eminent domain is legendary. What better credentials and understanding of the situation could anyone have? It’s hard to understand how the situation has gotten as far out of hand as it has but one thing is for certain; cooler heads need to prevail.

Editor’s note: Previous coverage of this issue in the Catskill Mountain News has referred to Susan’s Pleasant Pheasant Farm Bed and Breakfast as a seasonal employer of local youths. Among those who have enjoyed summer jobs at the inn are three nephews of Dick Sanford, this paper’s editor and publisher.