Blenheim Bridge to come off nat'l list


By David Avitabile

he former Blenheim Covered Bridge may soon be off the list of designated National Historic Landmark, but that has not stopped officials in their pursuit of building a replica bridge.
The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (SHPO) has informed the county that the process of de-listing the bridge as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service has begun, Bill Cherry, the county's flood coordinator, reported to county supervisors on September 19.
The de-listing is not a complete surprise since the historic bridge was destroyed in the August 28, 2011 flood, Mr. Cherry said.
The de-listing, he added, had been put on hold for some time after the flood for some "sympathy" for the county, but for the designation to remain, some of the structure has to remain. There were hopes that the designation would be retained.
Despite the setback, the county continues with plans to rebuild the bridge.
The county's design teams are putting the final touches on a "conceptual plan" for the site, according to Mr. Cherry.
That plan, being completed with $150,000 from FEMA, along with permits from other agencies such as the DEC, DOT, SHPO, and the Army Corps of Engineers, should be ready for submittal to FEMA in January or February, he added. The county will then wait on an approval of the actual design of the bridge and, finally, the construction of a new span.
FEMA originally turned down funding to rebuild a bridge, and then approved spending between $1.7 and $1.8 million for a gazebo-type structure off site. Mr. Cherry said a replica bridge, which would be built higher than the original one that spanned the Schoharie Creek, would cost more than that estimate.
It is not known how FEMA will respond to the county's request for full funding.
"How they'll respond to that, I don't know," Mr. Cherry added.
Officials, he continued, are actively pursuing the inclusion of at least some of the components of the original bridge into the replica bridge.
"The soul of the old bridge will be transferred to the new bridge," Mr. Cherry said.
Don Airey, of the Blenheim Long Term Community Recovery Committee, is not happy with the role of SHPO in the process.
He has no problem with the National Park Service, but noted that that office was contacted by SHPO opening the de-listing process.
"SHPO has been counter-productive to say the least and unsupportive" in efforts to collect pieces of the old span as well as in appeals to FEMA for funding.
The state agency should at least have stayed neutral instead of pushing for de-listing, he added.
Despite the setback, there is some hope for the site itself having historic landmark status, Mr. Airey noted.