Battered by tree trunks hurtling down the Esopus Creek in the August hurricane, Phoenicia’s Bridge Street bridge is the only one of the hamlet’s four entrances that remains closed six weeks after the storm.
“Our next steps will be to: one, keep that bridge closed indefinitely until we can get a structural examination of the entire bridge,” stated Ulster County Deputy Executive Bob Sudlow, who has oversight of the county’s public works department. “Two, we’ll do a feasibility study to determine what is necessary to restore the bridge and what is the cost going to be.”
Sudlow said the county is waiting for the Esopus to recede sufficiently to allow inspection of the footings and piers that hold up the bridge. There’s no telling when that will happen, given the frequency and intensity of recent downpours.
“I wish the county would get to work on it faster,” said Shandaken supervisor Rob Stanley. “It’s an important entrance to Phoenicia. When it was closed in 2005, it was devastating to businesses in the hamlet.”
“We don’t want to put anyone at further risk,” Sudlow stated. “We want to get an accurate picture of the damage done. When railings are torn off a bridge, you can imagine the force it took, considering the amount of pressure put on the bridge and the amount of material left there by the storm.”
The county invested substantially in repairing the bridge after the 2005 flood, noted Sudlow, adding, “Depending on the cost, if we couldn’t do it in-house, we’d have to ask the legislature to establish a capital project and apply to FEMA to see if they would support repair or reconstruction or potentially a new bridge.” He declined to speculate on whether the bridge can be repaired or will need to be replaced.
Stanley said county officials told him two weeks ago that the bridge, which shifted 18 inches during the storm, was engineered to move that way in response to high water. There’s a possibility they can reset the decking, repave, put back the railings, and “go back to the status quo.”
However, when James MacBroom, the engineer hired by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was in town to oversee the dredging of the Stony Clove Creek, he observed that the Bridge Street bridge is a pinchpoint, which probably caused flooding upstream and gravel bar deposition. Stanley says MacBroom suggested that re-engineering the bridge would allow more water to flow under it. “This was an off-the-cuff remark from an engineer standing in the stream,” cautioned Stanley.
He added that the county may feel re-engineering is not necessary, that the hurricane was “a once-in-a-lifetime event — but climate change is occurring. The Catskills are highlighted as an area due to get wetter — these floods are becoming normal occurrences. That’s the issue. Do we continue with the status quo? If precipitation continues to climb, shouldn’t we be thinking toward alleviating flood issues before they occur? The county, with its bridges, the DEP, and the DEC all need to take that into account. The DEP, with its concerns for water quality, should look at the quality of water during a flood and do mitigation to alleviate that pollution, as opposed to short-term turbidity from digging in the streams.”