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Stop funding of unneeded Blenheim Bridge

Stop funding of unneeded Blenheim Bridge

Government has more pressing needs for money than a replica bridge

Back in the 1980s, the Defense Department had its $435 hammers, $600 toilet seats and $7,000 coffee pots.

In 2016, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has the $10.2 million Blenheim Bridge in Schoharie County.

Guess federal officials can still be conned out of taxpayer money with a good story.

The original Blenheim Bridge, which spanned the Schoharie Creek 210 feet as a destination to nowhere, was washed away during the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

The original bridge, opened in 1855, was notable for its unique architecture and wooden construction. At one time, it was the longest single-span covered bridge in the world.

It certainly was an engineering marvel worthy of historic preservation.

But Mother Nature had other plans for the bridge. Nothing lasts forever, unfortunately.

Now Schoharie County officials have impressively persuaded FEMA officials — the people responsible for providing emergency relief and coordinating rebuilding efforts following natural disasters — to put up 75 percent of the cost of a replacement replica bridge. (The state will put up the rest, thank you very much.)

Officials claim the bridge was a tourist attraction and a centerpiece for town events, and was therefore worthy of a large investment of federal and state money.

But really, how much of a tourist attraction is a replica of an old wooden bridge? Can anyone put a dollar figure on how much sales tax revenue will be generated each year by the throngs of people rushing to stare at a fake historic bridge for five minutes or have a picnic nearby?

Since the bridge hasn't carried traffic for years, and a modern bridge currently carries vehicles and pedestrians on Route 30 over the creek, this replacement bridge is really just a vanity project.

If it were being built with private funds, then we'd have no problem with it. If people want to donate millions of dollars or invest a ton of sweat equity in building the replica bridge or a boat or a building, then go for it. That's why people have disposable income.

But the federal and state governments don't have disposable income.

What they do have is a tremendous need to replace our aging roads and bridges, many of which are in severe disrepair.

What they have, particularly in our region, are water and sewer pipes built 100 years ago that routinely collapse, causing water main breaks and contamination.

What they have is an obligation not to waste precious financial resources to help a small rural community regain a fleeting sense of historic and community pride.

What they have is a responsibility to the people of the country and the state to spend their money effectively and efficiently.

Sorry, but the replacement of this once unique old bridge doesn't fit the bill. But unfortunately, taxpayers are getting stuck with one.

There’s still a chance that FEMA will reject funding for the project, even though it’s already invested about $500,000 on preliminary work.

But wasting $500,000 is a lot better than wasting $10 million. It’s time to cut off the flow of money to this wasteful project for good.

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