FEMA won't pay to rebuild Blenheim Bridge as bridge


By David Avitabile

In a classic good news-bad news scenario, Schoharie County and Blenheim received a determination from FEMA on the flood-destroyed Blenheim Covered Bridge.
Originally, FEMA determined that the bridge was completely ineligible for federal funding but after an appeal, has decided that the bridge is eligible for help.
The county could get between $1.36 million and $1.73 million for the bridge, Treasurer Bill Cherry, who's overseeing flood recovery efforts, told supervisors at their July meeting.
Though that's good news, the bad news is that FEMA will not pay to replace the bridge in its former location over the Schoharie Creek, nor will they pay to construct a historically-correct duplicate of the bridge in another location, Mr. Cherry added.
FEMA will only give the county full funding if the money is used to build a 6,000-square-foot "community gathering site and venue for occasional community events, with no heat, plumbing, insulation or electricity-a gazebo-like structure," according to Mr. Cherry.
Blenheim Supervisor Bob Mann commented on the "plain absurdity" of replacing the historic wooden bridge with a gazebo.
"I don't know how you replace that bridge with a gazebo," he said, calling FEMA's decision "bittersweet."
County officials, who agreed that anything built with the funds has to be in Blenheim, have a few options.
According to Mr. Cherry, the county could find suitable land and build a gazebo-possibly in the shape of the former bridge.
The county would probably have to pay for the cost of the land, site work, and legal fees.
Another option, Mr. Cherry said, would be to request an alternate project from FEMA, one in which the county would deduct 10 percent of the estimated cost of the gazebo.
One of the choices for a project could be a historically-accurate replica of the former bridge, but since that would require DEC and FEMA approval, Mr. Cherry said it's unlikely anything spanning the Schoharie Creek would get the go-ahead.
Funding would be capped at $1.2 to $1.6 million.
It's also unlikely the county officials would support a bridge over the creek, considering the possibility of future damage.
A replica in another nearby location and more protected area makes the most sense, Mr. Cherry said. Mr. Cherry added.
A final option would be to again appeal FEMA's decision but according to Simmons Recovery, which has been working with the county and FEMA, a successful appeal is unlikely.
Don Airey, chair of Blenheim's Long Term Recovery Committee, said they'd like more time to consider their options and has asked Mr. Cherry to request an extension from FEMA so they can do that.
"We continue to reach out to the county for input and consideration," Mr. Airey said.