President getting involved in village bridge rebuilding

By Joe Moskowitz
When something needs to get done right, it’s sometimes best to avoid the middleman.
Margaretville resident Marc Osterweil thought that the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) was moving too slowly on replacing the village’s Swart Street bridge, so he went all the way to the President of the United States. And, his appeal to the Commander in Chief may have worked.
A detailed response to Osterweil from a high ranking FEMA official explained the problem and said that the Swart Street bridge replacement is now a FEMA priority item.
Osterweil said that Margaret­ville Village Trustee Iris Mead had been urging concerned residents to write Congressman Chris Gibson to see if he can help move the project along.
Osterweil said he remembered that during the most recent State of the Union Address that the President said he would respond to requests from individuals. So Osterweil sent an e-mail to the White House. He didn’t know what kind of response he would get, if any. It’s just a little bridge in a small town, but he said, “What did I have to lose? I sent an email so I didn’t even have to pay for postage.” He even sent it on the 4th of July.
Less than three weeks later, he received a reply, and it wasn’t a form letter. It was a detailed description of what had happened since the bridge was damaged by Hurricane Irene in 2011 and it came from Jerome Hatfield, FEMA Regional Administrator, Region Two. Osterweil said he wasn’t expecting to get a response from such a high ranking official, who left no doubt about why the letter was being sent and what Osterweil was talking about.
The FEMA response started, “Dear Dr. Osterweil, Thank you for your inquiry of July 4, 2014 to the Whit House and President Obama, seeking to exert pressure to address the lack of (FEMA/SEMO) issuing a Project Worksheet to the Delaware County Public Works Department so it can work on a bridge over the Bull Run stream on Swart Street that was damaged by Hurricane Irene.” The letter went on to explain how the state of New York (SEMO) was to have done the work, but in September 2013, the project was turned over to Delaware County and the next month, a Project Worksheet was submitted to FEMA for approval.
However, from the time the state did the estimates to when Delaware County submitted its plans, the scope of the project had changed and the cost of the project had ballooned from less than $200,000 to more than $800,000. 
Hatfield said the change of the applicant from the state to the county, the larger scope and much higher price tag have resulted in a delay in the review process, but Hatfield promised, “This project has been prioritized by FEMA Region II management.”
The letter doesn’t mean that work is going to start right away, but it does mean to Osterweil that someone may actually be listening.