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Emeryville bridge repair remains iffy

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Repair of the Emeryville bridge in the town of Fowler is uncertain as St. Lawrence County legislators are divided on the wisdom of a deal worked out with the town.

Ownership of the bridge, which is unresolved, would not be settled under an arrangement through which the town would pay up to $12,000 for materials that the county Highway Department would use to replace the wooden deck and three beams.

“I think it’s an excellent way to solve the problem,” said Legislator Alex A. MacKinnon, R-Fowler.

The bridge would be posted at 3 tons and a height bar installed to enforce the weight limit.

Keeping heavier vehicles off the bridge would keep it in service for a number of years before the question of its ownership might come up again, Mr. MacKinnon said.

The single-lane, 42-foot-long bridge is the shorter of two spans that cross the Oswegatchie River in Fowler. The county claims ownership of the longer bridge. The shorter bridge, which crosses a part of the river diverted by a dam operated by Hampshire Paper Co., was not included when the county took over bridges longer than 20 feet.

However, the county dismantled the bridge in the mid-1980s and installed a new one, Mr. MacKinnon said.

“To me, that sounds very much like it’s a county-owned bridge,” he said.

County attorney Michael C. Crowe said he does not believe the county is the owner despite its past work.

The county unsuccessfully tried to have Hampshire maintain the bridge as part of its recent relicensing, but the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was unconvinced.

Legislator Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, said he did not want the county to assume liability of the bridge if it did not own it.

“I don’t see it as solving the problem,” he said. “I think it adds to it.”

Legislative Chairwoman Sallie A. Brothers, D-Norfolk, said she thought the partnership between the town and county was a good short-term answer.

“This was an ideal solution to a thorny problem,” she said. “This is a service for people in the county. Hampshire Paper certainly hasn’t stepped up to the plate.”

Legislator Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, questioned whether county work on the bridge would make it the owner.

The county has done work for other towns in the past without taking on ownership, county Highway Superintendent Toby W. Bogart said.

Legislators are expected to debate the issue further at a Finance Committee meeting Oct. 29.

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