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Tuesday, August 4 News

Reluctant finance board OKs funds for shared bridge work

WESTPORT — With some reluctance, the Board of Finance unanimously approved $62,000 toward a repair project for Cavalry Road Bridge, which connects Westport and Weston over the West Branch of the Saugatuck River.

The appropriation represents a portion of the design expenses shared with Weston that will set in motion a $2.32 million plan to replace the bridge. Eighty percent of the costs will be reimbursed by the federal local bridge program.

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The funds were the subject of controversy last year, with the towns arguing over how the remaining 20 percent of the total cost — $464,000 — would be split.

“The issue here is the split,” Public Works Director Pete Ratkiewich said at Wednesday’s meeting. “This is a border bridge ... and there’s two ways of splitting the expenses.”

The first option would involve an agreement between the towns to do a 50-50 split. A second option, which Weston favored, was to follow a state statute that would see Westport bear about 73 percent of the remaining costs.

“The statute says, for lack of interlocal agreement, you take the last three years of the grand list for each town, compare them, and apply the expenses proportionally,” Ratkiewich said, adding they will have to re-evaluate the shared costs.

Getting an interlocal agreement would be the more difficult path and face additional bureaucracy, potentially slowing the process.

“A good majority of towns do it this way for simplicity,” Ratkiewich said of the statute.

Weston’s push to have Westport pay more toward the project created some tension between the towns, culminating in a Westport finance board member’s suggestion to increase beach sticker prices for Weston residents as retaliation.

BOF Chairman Brian Stern noted the dividing line of the build of the towns goes through the center of the bridge, with the left side owned by Westport and the right side by Weston.

“It’s a different case than what I think the legislature was put in place for, which is a bridge from one town to another,” Stern said.

Finance board members expressed some reluctance Wednesday to approve the costs, considering Weston’s behavior as being “bad neighbors.”

“I think the other annoying factor here is that it was Weston that was ordered to fix it, not us,” BOF member Nancie Dupier said.

Members also alleged Weston had previously agreed to a 50-50 split.

“When the 50-50 split was agreed to, it was between two town engineers not necessarily two town administrations,” Ratkiewich pointed out. “The value of the bridge work at that time was much less than this.”

Stern claimed it was likely the traffic across the bridge was mainly Weston residents traveling to Westport.

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“They have chosen to pursue this statutory route, and we have to get this bridge fixed,” Stern said. “They have not been good neighbors with respect to this, but that’s the way they wish to act and they are within the rights of the law.”

He added he was disappointed because the two towns share a lot of services and Westport has been a good neighbor in the past.

“There’s not much we can do except to approve this because we have to get the bridge fixed,” Stern said. “We have to be mature about it and say we’ll remember this event and let’s hope that next time they don’t behave this way.”