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Emeryville bridge repairs coming while ownership dispute lingers

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HAILESBORO — The Emeryville Bridge will be closed for two weeks for short-term repairs while awaiting a court decision on its ownership, but the extent of deterioration is worse than previously thought.

The bridge will be closed starting Tuesday for the St. Lawrence County Highway Department to replace the wooden deck. Under a partnership agreement, Fowler is paying for the repair materials while the county does the work.

The town had agreed to pay up to $12,000 for materials, but the wood probably will cost about $1,000, town Supervisor Michael J. Cappellino said.

The repair was supposed to include replacement of three of the bridge’s beams. However, that work was shelved out of fear disturbance could cause additional problems and because remaining beams were in worse condition than in an earlier inspection.

“The steel underneath has more section loss than we originally thought,” county Highway Superintendent Toby W. Bogart said. “The cost benefit wasn’t there. It just didn’t make sense, longevity-wise.”

“I think the new deck will buy some time,” Mr. Cappellino said. “We’re hoping it will buy us between five and 10 years.”

Ownership of the single-lane, 42-foot-long bridge is in dispute and could be decided by a suit pending in state Supreme Court that was brought by the county.

The bridge is the shorter of two spans that cross the Oswegatchie River. 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.

The county is gathering all of its evidence to prove it is not the owner, County Attorney Michael C. Crowe said.

The town is hoping the county ends up the owner because replacement would cost more than $100,000, and there are fears Hampshire would close the span if it is determined the owner, Mr. Cappellino said.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission declined to make Hampshire responsible for maintenance of the bridge during relicensing in 2011.

Keeping the bridge open is important for 17 people who live on the opposite side and other landowners, Mr. Cappellino said.

“It is most importantly a second form of egress,” he said.

Determining ownership is an important part of proceeding, county Legislator Alex A. MacKinnon, R-Fowler, said.

“Once that’s done, we can decide what the next step is going to be,” he said.

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