Posted at: 08/28/2012 10:41 AM
| Updated at: 08/28/2012 5:33 PM
By: Abiigail Bleck
BLENHEIM – Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene's wrath.
One of the hardest hit counties in the Capital Region, Schoharie, just received some disappointing news from the federal government that could set back their recovery effort, significantly. The chairman of the board of supervisors just learned by letter that FEMA will not cover the cost of replacing the historic Blenheim Bridge.
High waters lifted the 156-year-old span off its foundation and smashed it into a highway bridge downstream.
Residents in Blenheim, a town of about 330, call it a loss of identity.
“The people here in Blenheim feel it's a part of us, like we lost a family member, losing the bridge,” said Blenheim Town Board Member Anne Mattice-Strauch.
The community was so attached to it that volunteers and municipal workers, many dealing with their own Irene destruction, spent hours recovering its pieces from the nearby woods and creek bed.
The hope was to one day rebuild with money from FEMA.
“The initial assessment was that it's eligible for funding -- as any bridge, culvert, the county jail, the county office building -- because it's not a separate artifact, part of the county's ongoing inventory,” said historian Carle Kopecky.
Despite highway department maintenance since 1931, FEMA recently denied the funding request, calling it a historic artifact and not a structure.
Schoharie County -- already strapped from the cost of recovery -- and Blenheim don't have the $2 million to $4 million estimated for repairs.
“Our town operating budget is three to four hundred thousand dollars per year. Any increase in spending of just three thousand dollars is a one percent tax increase. Just imagine that,” Mattice-Strauch said.
So for now Blenheim's past -- a 210-foot-long covered bridge, the longest in the world -- sits piled at a nearby farm.
Residents, however, aren't giving up on its place in the town's future.
“We look at the bridge as a magnet for tourism, but also a driver to have local business -- and people -- want to live here and take advantage of the beautiful place Blenheim is,” said Donald Airey of the Blenheim Recovery Committee.
The county treasurer is actively appealing the FEMA decision.
There is also discussion of removing it from the national register of historic sites. The county was given a two-year extension on that.