Bridges of Cecil County Redux: Broomell Wants Skinny Bridge
What would you get if you put a bridge on Weight Watchers? A skinny bridge on Old Elk Neck, designed by Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4) to limit area development potential, even though such a new bridge would be “functionally obsolete,” according to county engineers.
It was yet another do-over day Tuesday afternoon for the county commish, as they argued for about two hours, yet again, over county bridge priorities and re-visiting decisions that commissioners already made in the past, at the instigation of Broomell.
And it was the latest installment in the not-ready-for-primetime unreality show, “The Bridges of Cecil County,” that has been playing on the County Commissioners channel in Elkton for much of the year. [SEE Cecil Times Special Report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2012/08/the-bridges-of-cecil-county-deja-vu-do-overs/
The commissioners voted a few weeks ago to proceed with replacement of the Old Elk Neck bridge, which washed out in a storm many years ago, but deferred action on recommended safety and grading improvements on nearby roads and intersections.
But Broomell was back at the drawing board again, this time saying that the engineering work already completed for a two lane bridge should be changed to make it narrower. At one point she suggested a one and half lane bridge, and then she mused about removal of shoulders for bicyclists or pedestrians. The county should “make the bridge a little smaller,” she declared. She also said her concept was such that the bridge “doesn’t have to have a fire truck going over it.”
Picking up on that tune, the normally silent Commissioner Michael Dunn (R-3) chimed in, “I would like to see it scaled down” and he suggested “a single lane.” No matter that Dunn had voted in the past to proceed with the current bridge plan for a two lane bridge. He said Tuesday he didn’t know at the time of his vote that the design had two lanes.
Broomell has been on a campaign against the project for many months and has resurrected it repeatedly even after a majority vote went against her viewpoint. She has said she was concerned about costs and she has alleged that Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-3) stood to gain from replacement of the fallen bridge because he lives in the area. (Hodge has abstained from voting on the bridge project.)
She claimed on Tuesday that a two lane bridge was “a way to get your foot in the door and kick it open” for development in the area.
Scott Flanigan, a certified professional engineer, outlined in copious detail the safety, engineering and hydrogeological rationale for the bridge design, for which 90 percent of the engineering design and planning work is completed. He said the bridge concept had been designed to meet “all the current standards for width and load.”
Broomell’s proposal would deliver a “brand new, functionally obsolete bridge,” Flanigan said.
“How small do you want to go,” he asked Broomell as her musings changed her concept of “smaller” several times during the discussion. “A one lane, wooden-plank bridge?” he inquired.
“If we’re not going to do it right let’s not do it at all,” Hodge said, after listening at length as Broomell outlined her plans.
“If we don’t have the resources or the political will” to build a modern, enduring bridge now, Hodge said, it would be better to wait “until people are elected” who will “take the long view” of what is best for the county and public safety.
Broomell then suggested Hodge shouldn’t speak at all on the bridge issues, saying, “if you’re going to recuse you need to step back.”
Hodge countered that he had a right to speak on behalf of many constituents who have voiced support for the bridge replacement project and challenged Broomell on her opposition to the proposed widening of Route 222 which adjoins her property.
Broomell then accused Hodge of endorsing the Old Elk Neck bridge replacement “for financial gain, for profit,” to which Hodge responded angrily, “that’s outrageous.”
Finally, Commissioner’s Board President James Mullin (R-1) found his gavel and tapped it lightly, saying, “I’m going to call a time out.” There was then applause from the audience in the meeting room.
Mullin then tried to assess the sentiments of the commissioners without calling a formal vote, offering his tally of two members for a skinny bridge (Broomell and Dunn) and two for the proposed two-lane bridge (Commissioner Tari Moore, R-2, and himself), with Hodge abstaining from any vote.
As there was a buzz in the audience, Broomell demanded, “Are you going to gavel?
A frustrated Mullin declared, “I just want to finish a sentence.”
But with the board deadlocked on the Old Elk Neck bridge do-over, Broomell then moved on to the ancient history of the defunct, collapsed Mill Lane Bridge in Earleville, just outside Cecilton, that was closed for unsafe conditions years before it was decimated by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. She raised no objection in July when Flanigan outlined a plan, and the commissioners approved putting out a bid proposal, to remove sediment and the last of the old bridge debris from the stream that feeds Scotchman’s Creek and feeds into the Bohemia River and the Bay.
Yet Broomell has resurrected the Mill Lane bridge—which commissioners decided in 2007 should not be rebuilt due to costs, low traffic volume and significant environmental concerns—as part of her campaign against, and then to skinny-down, the Old Elk Neck bridge, which in the past she dubbed the “bridge to nowhere.”
“What about the people of Mill Lane? Don’t they deserve a bridge?” Broomell intoned Tuesday during her speeches about the Old Elk Neck structure.
If there ever was a bridge to nowhere it is Mill Lane. A handful of local residents may be nostalgic for the old fishin’ hole at a dam over the stream but in the more than a decade since the bridge has been closed most local residents have found other places to fish and other shortcuts, such as New Cut road, to travel around the stream.
A patient Flanigan outlined, yet again, the costs of even a modest roadway over the stream as “at least” $3.5 million and the probability that state and federal officials would not approve it anyway due to environmental concerns. And the nature of the Mill Lane site would also require application for special wetlands permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which would be “an uphill slog,” he added.
After hours of verbiage, the bridge saga was again at a stalemate. But we’ll probably have to endure another re-run of this show, at least for as long as Mullin is around to let her try to do her do-overs. However, Mullin—who lost the Republican primary for re-election– will be out of a job in December, when his replacement for the District 1 seat will be sworn in.