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October 22, 2009 - 11:28am

County taking down Sour Springs bridge that took snowmobile club 400 hours to build

posted by Howard B. Owens in Alabama, Sour Springs Road, snowmobiles.

soursprings_bridge.jpg

The Sno-Packers Snowmobile Club thought they had all the approval they needed to build a recreational bridge over a creek in Alabama.

County officials disagree. County Manager Jay Gsell said this morning the bridge violates state law and the only option for the county is to remove it.

Department of Highway workers are tearing down the bridge today.

The bridge, which club members say took 400 man hours to build and is worth at least $40,000, spans a creek off Sour Springs Road, which is a dirt road off Roberts Road.

The club installed the bridge -- which club members largely pre-built in a garage prior to installation -- about a month ago. It's already been heavily used, according to club secretary Jane Chaddock, by fishermen, birdwatchers and hikers.

"It's nothing but a fiasco for something that was so beautiful and so much work," Chaddock said.

Doug Hagen, Genesee County snowmobile coordinator, said the club felt it had approval for construction of the bridge -- from County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens signing off on plans, to the County Legislature's Public Services Committee saying it should be built, to officials from the Town of Alabama saying they didn't oppose the construction.

Gsell said there was never any official permission given from the county and since the bridge is on the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, there needs to be more than tacit approval from the federal government for snowmobilers to ride right through the preserve.

But the main issue from a county perspective, Gsell said, is that any bridge over 5-feet long becomes county responsibility.

The county would be liable for any injuries resulting from use of the bridge should there be a problem.

And although club officials, according to Hagen, believe the bridge exceeds engineering standards for its intended use, Gsell said that's not necessarily true.

"Because the snowmobile club has actually admitted that they're going to use that bridge to put their snowmobiles on to cross that body of water, that bridge must meet state and federal guidelines as far as structural integrity, the distances, the accessibility...and that's not presently the case," Gsell said.

"The highway superintendent then, under state highway law, has to deal with the issue in terms of either removing it, which right now is our only logical option, or at some point involving some major capital project - we're talking about a couple of million dollars of replacing a bridge structure, because anything over 5 feet is the responsibility of county government. But, that doesn't mean we have to take ownership of something that people put there illegally and without anybody's permission."

According to Hagen, Sheriff's deputies are on scene at the bridge tear-down ensuring club members don't get out of hand.

Hagen said all of the material and labor to build the bridge was donated, but if he had to guess at the cost of material and construction, he would put it at $40,000.

"That bridge was built at absolutely no taxpayer expense," Hagen noted, "and now taxpayers are paying for that bridge to be ripped out."

Chaddock fought back tears while we spoke. She said people who have seen the bridge love it.

"People say it's the best bridge they've ever seen," Chaddock said. "People have said  they wanted to get married on that bridge."

UPDATE 11:43 a.m.: The bridge is gone. It was, however, removed in one piece and will be put in storage, Tim Hens said. He just returned to his office from the site, he said.

"Unfortunately, when the club put the bridge in without permission, it kind of forced our hand," Hens said. "I don't think anybody from the county wanted to remove that bridge, but it's what we had to do to protect county taxpayers from liability."

Hens said the county -- which has helped the snowmobile club raise $500,000 in grants from state and federal agencies over the past several years -- was trying to find a way to either get a bridge in place, or allow a bridge to be built, but had not been able to complete that process before the bridge went up.

UPDATE 3:30 p.m. (Billie Owens): The bridge came down easily and quickly this morning, according to the workers who remained at the scene afterward.

"It was a solid, well-built bridge, made of steel and wood," said county employee Aaron Zinkovich.

Another worker added that County Highway Superintendent Hens got verbally thrashed by snowmobile enthusiasts at the scene.

"They beat up on him pretty good - called him every name in the book," he said.

The snowmobilers wasted no time getting lawyered up. They've retained Roland R. Georger, of Damon Morey Attorneys at Law in Clarence, to advise them on the matter.

"I have a lot of investigating to do," Georger said, adding that will include looking at the permitting process.

Agenda minutes of the Byron-based Genesee County Snowmobile Association from Sept. 8 -- under the Old Business section -- reported that the county attorney "has told Co. Highway and Town of Alabama that the county cannot support the bridge concept because of liability. We all need to lobby Hawley and our county legislators for adopting a county law." Hagen attented the meeting along with other snowmobile group representatives.

The Sour Springs Bridge was built in the ensuing weeks.

UPDATE: Photo above by Billie Owens

UPDATE: Picture below submitted anonymously with no comment.  It looks like this would be the old bridge that was destroyed by an alleged drunken driver.

old_bridge_soursprings.jpg


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C. M. Barons
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At last! The long awaited sequel to Bridges of Madison County. God, Howard, could the story be more maudlin? Regardless of how much syrup one pours on this, some folks with more spare time than permissions built a structure on public (not to mention federal wildlife reserve) property and assumed it would be okay. If I were to read between the lines, I'd say these time-endowed folks were so caught up in their bridge they didn't give two hoots about approval; ...thought they'd sneak one by. Married on Sour Creek Bridge. Sheesh.
Mark Janofsky
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Why do we, the county tax payers, have to pay for the removal. The club should have to reimburse the county for the cost.
Peter O'Brien
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Once again government steps in where is doesn't need to. The club raised the money, built the bridge and installed at no cost to the government. But here they come to stop progress with more paperwork and their special permission. Eat my ass government. If I want a fence in my yard, I am not going to ask you for permission to build it. It will just be done. You have no right to tell me how to use my property. Doesn't matter that this is a federal reserve, the bridge did not hurt wildlife at all. The club should be commended for not demanding the government build a bridge for them on the tax payers dime. They knew they would be the primary users so they raised the funds and built it. This is the way America was meant to be. You need something? You earn the money and buy it. I know the money came from grants but that is a subject to tackle at a different time. The money was available, they did what they needed to to get it and then used it on something that benefited more than themselves.
Ritchie Kirkum Jr
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I think the people that built it thought they had cleared it with everyone they had to. So they way I read the article, it seems as people were giving permission out that they themselves needed permission to give. Typical
William Wombatski
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I tried to have my wedding reception on the bridge, but there wasn't enough snow to get the "limo-sled" to the location. Total bummer about the removal of the bridge. I want my deposit back!
Irene Will
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So if I belong to a private club, and I want to put up a structure on somebody ELSE's property, in anybody's front yard, back yard, driveway, then I CAN ??? And THEY have to MAINTAIN it for me ??? Is THAT all it takes - belonging to a private club ??? Wow. Who knew ?
George Richardson
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It's a federal wildlife preserve, why are snowmobiles allowed there at all?
Peter O'Brien
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Irene, its federal land, as in owned by the government, as in owned by all US citizens.
George Richardson
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Peter, so is the Whitehouse. Why don't you demand space for a garden and use of the kitchen facilities?
Peter O'Brien
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Too long of a commute to the kitchen for a snack... But seriously, this is a bridge that hurts no one and nothing. They did their due diligence and are being punished. Its wrong.
Sandra Mancuso
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Why is snowmobiling allowed in a wildlife preserve? Seems like a conflict
Stephanie Hagen
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The club did go through the proper channels to obtain permission to build and install the bridge no different than they get permission from the 600+ landowners to ride on their land. Had they not obtained permission they wouldn’t have asked for donations nor had over 20 volunteers from the club help with the construction. The supplies were donated not purchased through a grant and the volunteers were just that, volunteers, nobody got paid to do this, the only gratification they got was their own personal satisfaction of having contributed their time for a sport they enjoy. This is an embarrassment to the club and its members and is absolutely ludicrous. The truth will come out in due time. Oh and Jane Chaddock was mis-quoted and never said people asked to have their wedding there, she simply stated it would be a beautiful place to have wedding pictures taken. Also the seasonal road is technically owned by the Town of Alabama, which they received the go ahead from, the wooded area and the crick are part of the reserve that nobody rides on.
Irene Will
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The clubs MINUTES from their last meeting Sept 8 9- the NEXT meeting is not until November) say this : "Sour Springs Rd. Bridge: Gen. Co. Attorney has told Co. Highway and Town of Alabama that the county cannot support the bridge concept because of liability. We all need to lobby Hawley and our county legislators for adopting a county law." You can read the minutes for yourself online at : http://www.gencosnowmobileassoc.com/news-minutes.htm Looks to me like they KNEW they DIDN'T have permission.....
Stephanie Hagen
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I'm sorry, correction to the above landowner amount. We have over 250+ documented landowners but we did hand deliver almost 600 free chicken dinners to them and their families for our landowner appreciation chicken bbq last Sunday. Thanks again landowners, we really do appreciate it.
Sandra Mancuso
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According to the Feds official site www.library.fws.gov/refges/iroquis08/pdf A direct copy: To protect wildlife and visitors, the following are prohibited and subject to state and federal prosecution. n Open Fires n Cutting Firewood n Removing plants and animals (other than hunting and fishing) n Snowmobiling n Off-road vehicles n Horses or horseback riding
Mark Potwora
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Stephanie if this road belongs to the town of Alabama why aren't they taking it down,why must the county tax payer pay for this screw up..Were was the county when you were all putting up this bridge,doesn't seem like you did it in a day..
Stephanie Hagen
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Town of Alabama has given the club written permission and wants it back in.
Ritchie Kirkum Jr
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Well if they knew they didn't have permission, that changes everything. That makes it pretty simple.
Howard B. Owens
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I really don't want to get on the wrong side of Jane or Stephanie, or anybody in the club, but for the record, I did not, absolutely did not misquote Jane. And I don't see why that quote would in any way be controversial.
Stephanie Hagen
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Bottom line Tim Hens signed off on the plans, so if anybody should be responsible for anything its him. Its been fun everybody, you’ll see when the truth comes out. It’s in the lawyers hands now.
Howard B. Owens
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Stephanie, can we get a copy of that written permission from Alabama? And what leads the Club to believe that Alabama has the authority to give such permission?
Howard B. Owens
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Stephanie, what leads the club to believe that Tim Hens has the authority for final approval? I would expect it would have to go to a full vote of the Legislature, but even then, does the Legislature doesn't have the authority to make the final determination, since there's state laws and play and federal regulations.
Howard B. Owens
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I'm surprised nobody -- not even Peter -- has picked up really on the fact that the club could build this bridge for $40,000, but it would cost the county millions of dollars to do the same thing. That's quite a discrepancy from private sector to public sector.
Sandra Mancuso
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I would assume, if it is Federal land the only jurisdiction that can approve the construction would be them . Were they approached? If snowmobiling is not allowed on the Refuge and you have been trespassing, have you now created a big stink that the Fed's will crack down on the use? Just a question I have friends that thought it was legal to snowmobile there.
Ritchie Kirkum Jr
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What's next? Did each member of the club eat a piece of Coffee Cake?
Mark Potwora
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Thanks Stephanie,glad to hear the other side of story..This sounds like a major screw up on Mr.Hens part..I'm sure Howard will keep us updated on this taxpayer issue..How much did it cost to take down..
Laura Scarborough
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Howard, I did think about the clubs cost of only $40,000 vs the county cost of couple million dollars. Goverment Spending.
Bill Schutt
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"But the main issue from a county perspective, Gsell said, is that any bridge over 5-feet long becomes county responsibility." What happeded to the original bridge? Was the county maintaing that one?
Howard B. Owens
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Bill, that is a hole in my story and off the top of my head, I don't know the answer.
Ritchie Kirkum Jr
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Apparantly they were NOT maintaining the bridge right? Wouldn't it still be there?
Howard B. Owens
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Legislator Jay Grasso just called and said that the original bridge was built in 1885. In 2003/2004, an allegedly drunk truck driver struck the bridge. The bridge was listing in the water and was no longer safe, so it was taken down. He said the Feds are unwilling to pay for a new bridge because the road is so little traveled. Further, he said a bridge capable of carrying vehicle traffic would cost millions, but a pedestrian bridge would probably cost $700,000. He contends -- contrary to what the club says -- that the bridge had no engineer stamp on it. He also said the Public Safety Committee, which he sits on, never approved installation of the bridge.
Jeff Allen
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I agree with Peter, in a situation where clearly the municipality was not going to rebuild the bridge, private citizens rolled up their sleeves and accomplished it at a fraction of the cost. As far as it's safety compliance, why couldn't the town, county, and federal government then come along side the snowmobile club and help get the bridge into compliance as a limited use, limited access right of way for snowmobiles and pedestrians, perhaps with barriers that would restrict vehicle traffic. This is a situation of what is right about volunteerism, and what is wrong with our overly litigiuos society driving government interference.
Ken Toal
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Howard the reason it would cost the County millions of $'s is , they would have to hire someone to do a study $850,000 Then have it engineered $500,000 then have it built by the lowest bidder $1.2 million. Get all said and done, we have a bridge half the size and in need of replacement in ten years !!!!! Please raise my taxes some more I LOVE IT
Ken Toal
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Bill, I know of a hunting club in Genesee County with a bridge longer than 5 feet on their property, they built with out the county's ok I bet, maybe the county manager should go over there and tell them he is taking it down, lets see how that goes over.
C. M. Barons
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I am not specifically aware of all the ramifications of the previous bridge, its destruction or the various jurisdictions involved. I would guess that the old bridge was downgraded to limited use by the Town of Alabama. It was probably an abandoned town road, and the bridge must have been in dire condition as to fall victim to a careless/drunk driver. Obviously it was removed due to its condition after being damaged. The photo indicates a span built in the 20s or 30s. It probably pre-dated county and federal reserve jurisdictions, being left as a service road or even foot bridge. There are many abandoned roads with surviving bridges that are nolonger rated for regular traffic. (Fairgrounds Road in Byron and Little Boston come to mind.) Replacing it with a sound structure would involve impact studies, design work and approval by all jurisdictions involved. Replacement would also presuppose maintenance and possible snow removal. Regardless of how sound the club's bridge appeared, there is no assurance that it met state, federal and county specifications for such a structure. Most importantly, they did not have the necessary approval to install the structure. Although the civic initiative demonstrated by the snowmobile club is commendable, certainly they have their own agenda in mind. Initiative does not outweigh the liability issues, engineering requirements for such structures, use mandates or responsibility germaine to all jurisdictions sharing legal ownership of the property and associated structures. In any event, this is neither private property nor property under exclusive control of the Town of Alabama. If the county was responsible for removing the structure, they must have some vested authority over the span or the adjoining roadway.
Karen Miconi
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Hello Mr. Barons, I was going to comment, but you've summed it up above. Maybe the county should have tryed working with the club, for a sensible solution. Send and inspector out there to deem it safe. Ya know work together.
God Forbid...
Sandra Mancuso
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I still am not getting this. Work with the land owner? According to the map the land is located on A Wildlife Refuge where snowmobiling is not allowed! How was the "grant" approved to pay for this? If it was approved for a foot bridge, why was the money turned over to a snowmobiling club, was there deception involved to get the grant money? My tax dollars at work. According to the web site you can not snowmobile on this land! So it appears at this point money was aquired under deceptive circumstances "the Grant", to promote illegal use of a federal reserve, beautiful.
Peter O'Brien
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Howard, I thought of that immediately but don't want to jump on the union workers and the bureaucratic nightmare that is public works. That like grants is a separate issue from teh bridge. People can almost always do things cheaper and better than the government. I would have been on them though if the bridge was demolished in its removal.
Howard B. Owens
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A point about the grants -- the club did not get grants for this bridge. It gets grants -- and I hope I'm stating this right -- for a wide range of initiatives related to trails and promotion of recreation, not specifically this project. This was not an aspect of this story that I delved into deeply with the people I talked to, so my understanding is a little fuzzy, but I'm as certain as I can be that no grant money went to this project.
Dave Olsen
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Jeff hit the nail on the head: This is a situation of what is right about volunteerism, and what is wrong with our overly litigiuos society driving government interference." If the bridge was left up, I'm sure the snowmobile club would have used it and respected staying on the road, but then along comes some schmoo who's not a club member with a snowmobile or car or motorcycle and has an accident or falls off the bridge and while he's lying in the hospital wondering who's going to pay his bills, he sees a lawyer's ad on tv telling him he deserves a big payout ( I call it "Redneck Lottery") and then the club, town, county, state, federal government all get sued. Then everybody who's complaining on here about government spending will want to know why this was allowed to happen. If you build it, they will come.
cj sruger
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This is a completely sad state of affairs.
Mike Corona
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I have seen snowmobiles skim across lakes for at least a hundred yards. So why do the sno-packers even need a bridge. That little thumb lever by your right hand thats the throttle PRESS IT!!! Don't use the the excuse the banks are to steep-- get over there and scrape them down. County land, State land, Federal land doesn't seem to matter to the SNO-PACKERS. Sno-packers who the heck ever came up with that name anyways? Would make me a bit nervous to ride with you guys.

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