A simmering dispute between the Town of Aurora and the Village of East Aurora about which should pay to repair or replace a rusted culvert-style bridge is heading for the State Supreme Court.
The Aurora Town Board has voted unanimously to ask a judge to rule on which municipality is responsible for costs on Brooklea Drive estimated to be from $100,000 to $200,000. Town Attorney Ronald Bennett said he would be working to draft and file the paperwork in the weeks ahead.
“We’ve been discussing this for a long time,” said Supervisor James Bach at the meeting Monday. “We need to come to a conclusion on this.”
A judge’s ruling will navigate the conflict between the municipalities which have been at odds for several years about sharing bridge costs. While East Aurora cites a statute that says the town owns bridges built after 1909, Aurora has found its own legal citations. It believes East Aurora should take charge of the Brooklea bridge that the village plows and that was built for a subdivision the village approved.
Disputes like this about seemingly minor things are one of the symptoms of villages embedded within towns, said Rick Su, a law professor specializing in local government at the University at Buffalo.
“We always fight about who’s going to pay for what, even with a small thing like a bridge,” Su said.
The controversial Brooklea culvert, large enough to be considered a bridge by the state, is a patch of road above Tannery Brook that is easy to drive over without noticing.
Last fall, it was a hot issue during town board election season because corrosion on the metal culvert pipes was enough to earn a “yellow flag” designation from the state, a warning that urges further inspection.
Opponents to the incumbents, who were nevertheless re-elected, charged that the town was moving too slowly on repairing a number of bridges over the brook.
Eight Tannery Brook bridges are in the town/village limbo. About three, including Brooklea, need repairs estimated to cost a total of about $750,000, according to David Gunner, the Aurora highway superintendent who has been frustrated by the slow process.
“I think somebody needs to fix them, so somebody needs to make a decision,” he said. “Really, it is ridiculous. It shouldn’t take five years to make a decision on that stupid stuff.”
Village Trustee Randy West, who sat in the meeting audience Monday, said afterward he was disappointed that the town was going to such lengths. “We certainly regret that these steps are being taken …We, of course, disagree or we wouldn’t have gotten to this point,” he said. “I hope this doesn’t double the cost.”
Getting a judge to rule will be the fairest way to distribute the costs and settle a puzzling issue, said Bach.
“If the village has maintained it, does the town now have responsibility to take it over?” he said. “We’re not doing battle. We’re just trying to get a legal determination.”