Lynch Bridge reconstruction, now in limbo, awaits federal funds

NEWFANE — Designs are in place, workers are standing by, and state and federal approval is essentially given to start the major Lynch Bridge reconstruction.

But because the federal government has not pointed to a pot of money to cover costs, it's not yet clear work will begin this building season.

Selectboard member Christine Druke said she is still waiting to sign the contract with Vernon-based Renaud Bros., the town's preferred contractor, because FEMA has not confirmed the existence of a construction fund.

“I'm not comfortable until I know there's a construction fund sitting within a computer system. It was there. This is the allocation of estimated funding that you'll need. I just want it to be back there,” she told the board on Aug. 15.

She signaled she has been working diligently to solve the problem.

“I can't take this if we can't absolutely show this on a piece of paper and the bank knows that we're sitting on it,” she said.

Meanwhile, Renaud's Charlie Ezequelle, present at the meeting, expressed concern that time was running out to secure necessary permits and lock in a construction start date with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“If I don't have a notice, it doesn't wind up high on [the Corps'] priority list. And as far as our crew, I've got other places I can put them,” Ezequelle said.

According to Ezequelle, Oct. 1 is the cutoff to lay in equipment and prepare the construction site. “I've got to be out of the water by then.”

Given the time it takes to wait for permits even under ideal conditions, for all intents and purposes, the deadline for permits is September, he said.

According to Druke, the Corps' permits are ready to issue.

“I'm ready to call them the very minute I know the allocations are back into the federal system,” she said.

”If you wanted to take another tack on this, we can call ahead and ask for the issuance of the permits now. We can do that. ... I'm talking about me making a call asking for those permits to be issued” and have them ready even if they weren't going to be needed this year, Druke said.

Ezequelle did not endorse that idea, but Druke said she would move forward on it if a new round of phone calls didn't produce results.

“I'd like to show the federal government, meaning the Corps of Engineers, that the federal government, meaning FEMA, are holding each other up,” Ezequelle said.

“I clearly understand your point. Your point is taken. So I will do what we just discussed,” Druke said.

Board chair Jon Mack reiterated Newfane's strong desire to move forward with Renaud and see Lynch Bridge begun to be erected this season.

“We are absolutely committed to building this bridge. What we need to get our loan so that we can cover closing: the bank needs to see that the federal government has allocated the funds. We've had multiple assurances that there are no issues with it. We don't control that piece,” Mack said.

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