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November 30, 2012

Mayor: Village should use funds to fix bridge

By JOE MAHONEY
The Daily Star

---- — There is still a Bridge Street in the heart of the village of Fleischmanns — but the 53-foot bridge it is named for is gone, destroyed last year by Hurricane Irene.

Fleischmanns Mayor Todd Pascarella said Thursday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is willing to put up the more than $2 million that it would take to build a  replacement bridge in this small community on the eastern edge of Delaware County.

However, he added, Delaware County officials are instead directing that the money be poured into unrelated bridge projects, despite a petition signed by hundreds of local residents who want the Bridge Street Bridge to be replaced with a new one.

Pascarella said the loss of the county-owned Bridge Street Bridge has inconvenienced residents and tourists who want to cross it to get from the village’s downtown shopping area to the village park and a nearby residential neighborhood.

Even more serious, he said, the absence of the bridge leaves in jeopardy residents who live in or near the Wagner Avenue neighborhood. They could be in danger in the event of fires or future flooding, he said, because volunteer firefighters will not be able to reach them quickly.

“We have a real public safety issue here that cannot be ignored,” Pascarella said.

Delaware County Public Works Commissioner Wayne Reynolds has made the decision not to replace the Bridge Street Bridge and to instead use the FEMA money for other projects, according to Pascarella and Fleischmanns Fire Chief Todd Wickham.

Attempts to reach Reynolds at his office Thursday were unsuccessful. He did not return messages left on his county telephone voice mail and with his clerk.

Wickham said he agrees with Pascarella’s assessment that village residents will continue to be in harm’s way if the Bridge Street Bridge is not rebuilt.

He said if the county channels the FEMA funds into other projects, then FEMA or the county should help pay for a new rescue boat and training for the volunteer firefighters who would be called on to rescue people from flood waters.

Gloria Zola-Mulloy, the owner of two buildings on Main Street in Fleischmanns, said commerce and tourism in the village will suffer if the bridge is not replaced.

“Getting our bridge back is a critical issue,” she said. “It’s a hardship when people can’t get to Main Street quickly.”

She also said county officials have failed to listen to the voices of community residents convinced the FEMA funds were intended to go to rebuild the Bridge Street Bridge. “We feel we’ve had our pocket picked,” she said.

Pascarella said the county risks being penalized by FEMA for using the award for projects other than the bridge over the Bushkill.

“Having a bird in hand is better than scaring two out of the bush and ending up with nothing,” he said.