Halcottsville bridge repairs on schedule for this summer

By Julia Green
A larger-than-usual crowd was present at last Tuesday’s meeting of the Middletown Town Board, where the main topic of discussion was once again the bridge replacement project in Halcottsville.
Among those in attendance were Jim and Sue Kelly, whose property has been a major point of contention in the replacement of the bridge, and Wayne Reynolds, commissioner of public works for Delaware County. A number of Halcottsville residents were also present to voice their displeasure at the obstacles that have delayed the project thus far.
Town Supervisor Len Utter reiterated that as the bridge in question is a county bridge, the town “has nothing to do with that bridge.”
Reynolds provided a brief background discussion and apologized to the residents, acknowledging the responsibility of the county to maintain bridges that can carry fire and emergency vehicles.
The inability of the bridge to support such vehicles in its current state has been a primary argument for its replacement, despite the standstill in negotiations between the Kellys and county representatives. The bridge currently has a three-ton weight limit; on average, ambulances weigh roughly seven tons, while fire trucks weigh about 10.
The Kellys, who own Susan’s Pleasant Pheasant Farm, have expressed concern that construction involved in replacing the bridge could jeopardize the safety of their property due to the use of vibratory hammers.
“I am very frustrated that I have not been able to make this work,” Reynolds said, and added that the county board of supervisors “has no choice but to look for eminent domain” due to their inability to reach an agreement.
He added that the county has been working with the manufacturer of the vibratory hammer on alternative solutions, but conceded that if the county is unable to use public funds to shore up the structure, they may have to buy it, shore it up, and sell it back.
“The board of supervisors will build that bridge this year,” he affirmed – a declaration that was met with a smattering of applause by meeting attendees.
He said the Kellys indicated that August would be the least invasive to their business and would therefore be the target date for reconstruction, which will occur in the structure’s original footprint and should take about six weeks.
The county has identified the amount of property needed to rebuild and following an appraisal of the property will make an offer to the Kellys for the footprint of the bridge and possibly the building. If the offer is denied, Reynolds affirmed that the issue would be taken to the board of supervisors to proceed with eminent domain.
Jim Kelly voiced his frustration that it seemed the issue has become “the Kellys versus the county,” and that while the town may not be the regulating body in matters related to the bridge, that the issue itself is still a town issue. He cited the tourism and economy factors related to his business, and argued that the only reason they brought the issue to the public meeting was that when the issue began moving toward eminent domain, they felt they had no local representation.
“You told me you would buy my property and then, if it was still standing, you’d sell it to the highest bidder,” he said.
He also asked Reynolds to dispel rumors that the county had offered to replace his septic system, and to acknowledge that the Kellys were not responsible for the failure of plans for a covered bridge.
“I feel very good and confident that this bridge is going to go in,” said Jenny Liddle, who implored the Kellys to come to an agreement with the county and noted the added financial costs incurred by residents who must take the longer route to Margaretville.
The board agreed to send a letter to the county expressing concerns and Utter brought the bridge discussion to a close by saying to Kelly that, “250 to 300 people, you included, count on that bridge.”
“I want a safe bridge, too,” Kelly responded. “I’m on the other side of that bridge, too.”