ELIZABETHTOWN - Officials in Essex County are threatening New York State with a lawsuit for what they say has been poor stewardship of the Crown Point bridge.
The Essex County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Nov. 2 for a resolution "directing the Essex County Attorney to assess the feasibility of filing a class action lawsuit against the State of New York for negligence in the state's maintenance of the Crown Point Bridge..."
Crown Point Supervisor Dale French, who proposed the resolution, said the suit should aim to recompense commuters and businesses for their additional costs and loss of patronage they have suffered as a result of the bridge closure.
"The state has not only ignored the warnings from the Essex County Board of Supervisors by not properly maintaining the Crown Point Bridge, but failed to develop a contingency plan for bridge closure that could have been swiftly implemented," he said.
According to French, the bridge's closing has caused millions worth of financial loss to businesses in the region.
The call for a lawsuit echoes the tone of State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who last week criticized the State Legislature for repeatedly diverting funds from the state's Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust Fund.
According to DiNapoli, only 35 percent of the money in the fund has gone to repair roads and bridges since 1991. He pointed to the Crown Point Bridge as a specific example of crucial infrastructure that fell into severe disrepair as a result.
Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava said he, French and Ticonderoga Supervisor Robert Dedrick attended a meeting Oct. 30 with Vermont and New York State officials at the site of the bridge, though none of the three had received invitations.
The prevailing plan discussed at that meeting, Scozzafava said, was to establish ferry service at ports near the bridge. Unlike ferries in Ticonderoga and Westport, the new ferry would supposedly run year-round with departures throughout the day and night. Like other ferries, it would be subsidized by the state and free for motorists and passengers.
"We're hopeful that this new plan is put in place," said Scozzafava. "It wouldn't solve all the problems, but it will certainly make life easier for the thousands of people who depend on that crossing on a daily basis."
Dedrick expressed frustration with the state for not making an effort to include local officials in the planning process.
"They don't even involve us at all," he said. "They're making decisions and we're being left out of the loop."
Scozzafava agreed, saying the local governments shared the goal of finding a solution and contributing to its implementation.
"Communication right now is crucial," said Scozzafava. "That's part of the reason we're in this mess to begin with." North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi expressed concern that with ferry service established at Crown Point, the state may decide to forego repairing or replacing the bridge.
"One of the options still out there is to replace the bridge with a ferry," said County DPW Supervisor Fred Buck, "so don't think it can't happen."
"That's a fight for another day if they propose that," said Scozzafava, "but right now we need that ferry."
Dedrick also called for immediate action. Though the proposed ferry would be an icebreaker, he said it would have to be put in service before too much ice forms on the lake.
The rest of the board agreed, voting unanimously for a resolution urging both New York and Vermont to implement the new ferry as a temporary measure.