About 200 people showed up to celebrate the reopening of Phoenicia’s Bridge Street bridge on Friday, May 25, as Ulster County Executive Mike Hein extolled the county highway department workers for restoring the bridge after Hurricane Irene ripped down most of its guardrails and shifted the roadbed by 18 inches.
Before the speeches and ribbon-cutting, residents from both sides of the bridge mingled, along with kids and dogs, under cloudy skies.
“We’re so glad it’s opening!” exclaimed Mount Tremper resident Posie Strenz, wheeling a tandem bicycle alongside her seven-year-old son, Noel. “We like to ride the loop down Route 28 and up the Plank Road.”
Ellen and Lester Fensterheim recalled how their poodle, Sadie, had gotten loose and crossed the bridge on her own the day after the hurricane, to go visit her dogsitter, Marilyn Manning, in town. Sadie managed to crawl under and over the many trees piled on the bridge by the storm, before someone saw her trotting down Main Street and called her owners.
Businesspeople in town were relieved to have the bridge open in time for Memorial Day weekend. Although there are three other entrance roads to Main Street, Bridge Street is the primary gateway, and business owners say it attracts more passing motorists than the other access routes.
Standing in front of a banner stating, “Phoenicia is alive, well, rebuilding, and open for business,” Hein told the audience that there had been doubt about whether the bridge could be repaired, but an engineering report showed it could be done.
Shandaken supervisor Rob Stanley praised the town’s community spirit and said locals had brought coffee and sandwiches to the road crew during the restoration project. He thanked the county for fixing the bridge. “They know how much it means to our community. I’m ecstatic this is open to start our summer season.”
Stanley and Hein presided over another Shandaken bridge opening on May 22, when a new bridge was completed on County Route 47 in Oliverea, over a 50-foot section of road that was washed away by the hurricane. “It was a place where we didn’t need a bridge in the past,” remarked Hein, “but Irene changed our minds.”
After the May 25 ceremony, former Onteora school board president Maxanne Resnick reported she had recently heard someone in Kingston say they thought Phoenicia was still shut down from the August hurricane. “In fact, even after Irene,” pointed out Resnick, “we still have entrepreneurs who see the value of the area and want to invest,” as evidenced by the number of hotels and restaurants in Shandaken that were recently purchased and are reopening.
County holdup to tubing
One person not happy with the county on Friday was Harry Jameson of Town Tinker Tube Rental, who is still waiting to make use of a grant he applied for in January from the Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC) for cleaning up trees and railroad tracks from the middle of the Esopus Creek.
“I had a contractor lined up last Friday,” said Jameson, “and I was in touch with the Sheriff’s dive team, when the CWC said they needed an indemnification document from the county.” The desired document is designed to make sure the CWC will not be held liable for any unintended consequences of work completed under the grant.
Jameson had hoped to get the work done in the week before Memorial Day weekend, but by Friday, May 25, the county’s attorneys were still deliberating over the document. “What about the health and safety of people in the creek?” demanded Jameson.
In recent years, several people — a kayaker and some tubers riding the creek on their own, apart from either of the local tube renting concerns — have been killed when trapped under debris in fast currents on the Esopus.
Asked about the delay, Hein commented, “We want to make sure the work gets done, but we have to balance that with not exposing the taxpayers to environmental liability. The lawyers are working on it diligently.”
The Town Tinker opened for the season on Saturday, May 26, but its Facebook page warns, “Please be advised we will be operating on a modified course, as there is still debris in the Creek…Until this problem is resolved, only experienced whitewater users please.” Keep an eye on Facebook for updates.++