The Erie Street Bridge drama in Lancaster is about to play out in the courtroom.
After back-and-forth arguing between the village and town over whose responsibility it is to repair or replace the deteriorating span hit a wall this week, village leaders ultimately decided to sue the Town of Lancaster.
The village is accusing the town of failing to take responsibility for maintaining and fixing the bridge, located east of Court Street in the village. “Public safety is our No. 1 concern,” Village Mayor Paul M. Maute said Friday. “We’re suing because we’re really not getting anything from the town.” Maute and others voiced mounting distrust of town officials, whom they said should recognize the bridge as a bridge – and not a mere culvert – and that it should be the town’s job to fix it and pay for the work.
The two municipalities have vehemently argued that each other is in the right. The village insists the span is a bridge and is the town’s responsibility to maintain and pay for; while the town is equally as adamant that it’s the village’s problem and considers it a culvert.
“To me, the town is going to go for a quick fix, and come back at the village to pay for it,” a frustrated Maute said
A handful of village and town officials met privately Aug. 22 to try to hash out the issue. Apparently, Town Supervisor Dino J. Fudoli wanted both municipalities to agree to split the bridge bill. That has not happened. Village estimates have put replacement cost at more than $200,000 for the span. Fudoli could not be reached to comment Friday.
Last week, town special legal counsel Jeffrey F. Swiatek fired off a letter to village special counsel Paul D. Weiss, saying the town would begin emergency work necessary to secure the span and protect public safety, estimated to cost between $30,000 and $40,000. But Swiatek left the door open for the town to consider seeking full payment from the village for all costs associated with the work.
“The town is disappointed that the village has, to this point, refused to consider a compromise of this dispute, in which both the town and village contribute toward at least the immediate work necessary to secure the structure and protect public safety,” Swiatek stated in his Aug. 26 letter.
However, Weiss said that response did not take care of the problem. “It doesn’t resolve the issue. It kind of kicks the can down the road,” Weiss said. The Village Board responded Monday night by unanimously authorizing Weiss to proceed with a lawsuit against the town, and it was filed Friday in State Supreme Court.
Village Trustee Russell W. Sugg defended the village. “I haven’t seen any evidence that it’s not a bridge,” he said. “I felt we should reveal all of our cards to the town, and we did.”
Meanwhile, the well-traveled bridge – located in an industrial section of the village and leading out toward Alden – has no traffic control devices in place and is down to one lane. Heavy steel plates are temporarily covering the hole in the bridge’s deck.
The Town Board will discuss the latest bridge salvo Tuesday. A closed-door meeting with town leaders and Swiatek is expected. “Initially, it was the town’s hope the dispute could be resolved amicably,” Swiatek said Friday. “But the village has rejected that.”