The Bridges of Cecil County: Deja vu Do-Overs
If you were going to write a Cecil County version of the saccharine popular romantic novel, âThe Bridges of Madison County,â it would be more like a rather tedious historical novel, full of the same places and the same characters, doing and saying the same things over and over but at least one character thinking the ending might somehow change.
Just when you thought you had finally heard the last of the decades-old saga of the long defunct Mill Lane bridge in Earleville, Cecil County Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4) declared Tuesday that she wants to consider its resurrection from the collapsed concrete. (No matter that previous commissioners and state and federal officials nixed a costly bridge rebuild years ago and Broomell herself voted a few weeks ago to proceed with steps to remove the last bridge debris and remove Mill Lane from the countyâs bridge list forever.)
And just when you thought the commissioners, including Broomell, had finally made a decision a few weeks ago to replace the fallen Old Elk Neck bridge but not do anything for now about safety issues on approach roads, suddenly Broomell wants to re-visit the issue. Thatâs despite the fact that it was her instigation of attacks on âthe bridge to nowhereâ that had halted roadwork in the first place.
And just when you thought that Broomell had stopped free-lancing in public without advance support from fellow commissionersâafter her free-lancing at the state Public Service Commission against the Artisian water plants sale that ended up costing taxpayers a tidy sum in legal feesâenter Broomell at a North East town council meeting, cutting a potential deal with Mayor Robert McKnight. She said the county could kick in some bucks to fix a small local bridge that serves the family business of a town council member and political ally of the mayor.
(OH, by the way, that political ally is married to the man who lost the GOP primary in April to incumbent Commissioner Robert Hodge, R-5, Broomellâs perpetual target of political attack.)
Only in Cecil County. (In the fictional Madison County, the focus was really love, not bridgesâor politics.)
Near the end of Tuesdayâs commissionersâ worksession, Broomell declared that she wanted to re-open consideration of action on the three bridges âjust to research our options.â
That drew a quick, sharp response from Commissioner Tari Moore (R-2), who said she was âsurprisedâ to learn that Broomell had âappeared to unilaterally make an offerâ to North East officials to kick in county money to the repair costs of the local bridge. âWhat gives you the authority to act on behalf of the commissioners and make an offer,â Moore inquired. âI believe you put the cart before the horse in this matter,â Moore said.
âI was elected by the citizens,â Broomell responded. âIf this is a concern of mine, I need to pursue it.â
Moore countered that the countyâs capital improvement plan is formulated in a deliberative process–with engineering, traffic studies and cost input from the Department of Public Works and prioritization based on available funds and transportation needs. That process is âdone in a very non-political manner,â Moore said, adding that Broomellâs approach to bridge issues has been âdone in a very political manner.â
Broomell then put her own political spin on the bridges of Cecil County: âIt seems it is being driven by commissioners who are living in the area,â she declared.
Moore interjected that Broomellâs repeated veiled but unsubstantiated allegations against fellow commissioners were âcompletely unacceptableâ and dared her to file a complaint with the county Ethics Commission if she thinks anyone has behaved improperly.
Commissionersâ board president James Mullin (R-1) perked up at that, hitting his gavel and raising one hand toward the combatants, saying, âIâm going to ask you to stopâŚ. Time out.â (Perhaps the commissionersâ meeting room in Elkton should be equipped with a kiddies time out chair, in the corner and away from the grownups?)
Eventually, and as usual, Mullin caved to Broomellâs demands and said he would schedule a meeting of commissioners to discuss the bridge priorities. Moore and Hodge said they had no objection to spending still more hours re-hashing the bridge issues that have consumed many hours of talk and deliberation all year. (And also as usual, Commissioner Michael Dunn, R-3, was silent.)
Broomell has had an evolving position on the Old Elk Neck bridge project, which has been on the countyâs priority list for years and engineering study expenditures were included in the capital improvement budget approved by commissioners last year.
This yearâcoincidentally while she was running as a candidate for County Executive in the April Republican primaryâshe attacked the bridge project itself and ancilliary costs for access road and intersection improvements. She and her supporters attacked it as âa bridge to nowhere,â a moniker that upset the many residents of Elk Neck who thought they were someone and lived somewhere.
(Cue up the legendary Moody Blues song, âI Know Youâre Out There Somewhere,â for the soundtrack to the movie version of The Bridges of Cecil County.)
On her campaign website/blog, Broomell declared that she hoped the Elk Neck bridge would be âremove (d) âŚ altogetherâ from the capital budget. (Broomell lost the April primary to Moore.)
The project was put on hold in the capital budget for the current budget year. Broomell subsequently said she had been misunderstood and that she didnât oppose reinstating the bridge itself but it was the access road and intersection work and costs that concerned her.
(Cue up the â60âs group, the Animals, songââIâm just a soul whoâs in search of the good; Oh Lord, please donât let me be misunderstoodâ– for the soundtrack.)
Then, on 7/31/12, the commissioners voted 3-1 to proceed with a scaled-back version of the bridge replacement alone, turning a deaf ear to public works officials concerns that the project should include some safety improvement to access roads to the bridge. Broomell voted no, saying while she now supported replacement of the bridge she thought it should be a narrower, cheaper bridge. (Hodge abstained from the vote since he lives nearby.)
At that session, the commissioners refused to support improvements to access roads, with Broomell leading the charge against the $1.7 million project. But on Tuesday she said she now wanted to consider possible access road alternatives.
Then there is the infamous Mill Lane bridge in Earleville. Frankly, Cecil Times has written so much about this true âbridge to nowhereâ that we are just so tired of beating a dead horse once again that we will refer you to a special report on the issue we researched and published over a year ago, here: http://ceciltimes.com/2011/04/earleville-stream-project-could-cost-cecil-county-a-cecil-times-special-report/
Readers will note that the commissioners, including Broomell, let a proposal by the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC) die in the neck-high weeds of the Mill Lane stream because it would have required the county to assume ownership of adjoining land and responsibility for a parking lot and boat ramp that the group wanted to install there. Even that failed proposal did not include replacement of the actual bridge, which was wiped out in 1999 by Hurricane Floyd.
We thought this dead horse had finally been granted a decent burial a few weeks ago, when the county commissionersâincluding Broomellâagreed in mid-July to put out a request for bids to finally remove the remaining bridge debris from the stream and stabilize the embankments that are sliding into the stream and depositing sediment that is polluting Scotchmanâs Creek that feeds into the Bay.
In doing so, no one sought to resurrect the long abandoned concept of replacing the old bridge and public works director Scott Flanigan advised commissioners that the stream projectâexpected to cost $250,000 or lessâwould finally remove the defunct bridge forever from the countyâs official bridge list.
[SEE detailed Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2012/07/cecil-county-commish-consider-250k-for-long-stalled-mill-lane-cleanup-in-earleville-no-bridge-rebuilding/ ]
But suddenly, Broomell resurrected the concept of a Mill Lane bridge on Tuesday for re-consideration. She included it with the other bridges as being advocated by fire and public safety officials.
That may come as a surprise to the two local fire companies serving the area. Hackâs Point VFD is located on one side of the small stream and Ceciltonâs firehouse is a short distance away on the Route 213 side of the stream. And local access around the stream is readily available via New Cut Road, off Mill Lane.
Broomell claimed that the ESLC told her they might have some grant money available for a Mill Lane project. She did not elaborate, and appeared to be unaware that an ESLC proposal had been made, and dropped by the commissioners, more than a year ago.
She also included Mill Lane indirectly in her attacks on other commissioners. Former Commissioner William Manlove lives adjacent to the stream and has said he opposed replacing the bridge due to the exorbitant costs, not because of its proximity to his home.
State and federal officials reviewing the project over the years have also opposed bridge replacement as too costly for too little traffic served, and declined to provide money for bridge construction.
So now the county commissioners will spend more time revisiting decisions they made just a few weeks ago.
So letâs re-wind the videotape. Soon to be playing on a creaky, hissing old VCR tape in Elkton: The Bridges of Cecil County. Donât expect any romanceâor Clint Eastwoodâin this version.