Commission looks to head off state with report trumpeting historic Saugatuck bridge

HDC Commissioner Rob Weingarten, also chair of the Saugatuck River Swing Bridge Study Subcommittee, presents the subcommittee?'s report to the HDC.
HDC Commissioner Rob Weingarten, also chair of the Saugatuck River Swing Bridge Study Subcommittee, presents the subcommittee?’s report to the HDC.Chris Marquette / Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — Praise was handed out Wednesday night for a report that looks to limit the state’s hand in repairing, refurbishing or even replacing a historic bridge over the Saugatuck River.

A 35-page report advocating for a local historic district designation of the William F. Cribari Memorial Bridge, including the properties abutting the bridge on both sides, was unanimously accepted by the Historic District Commission (HDC).

Brought to the HDC by the Saugatuck River Swing Bridge Study Subcommittee, the compendium hones in on the local significance of the bridge to the Westport community—the bridge already has a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

Subcommittee Chairman Bob Weingarten, who is also a member of the HDC, said the report’s three objectives were to provide information regarding whether the bridge should be designated historic locally, to provide the state with information on why the bridge should stay intact and third to compile the bridge’s extensive history for residents to review.

"I’m very impressed with the quality of the scholarship that’s gone into this. A lot of good work there and very, very interesting reading," said HDC Chairman Francis Henkels, who was one of numerous HDC commissioners and members of the public to voice their support for the report.

Henkels added that the bridge has come under consideration for renovation or removal five times and might not be standing if it weren’t for residents. In that same light Commissioner Cheryl Bliss said, "Westport has always been a feisty town and this confirms it."

Don Bergmann was so impressed with the subcommittee’s work that he suggested the HDC submit it to the state Department of Transportation. A state Rehabilitation Studies Report on the bridge is set to be released on the Department of Transportation website June 1. On June 15, beginning at 6:30 p.m., the state DOT will hold a "public informational/ public scoping meeting" to discuss the RSR report in the Westport Town Hall auditorium.

The fate of the 287-foot-long metal bridge, built in 1884, has yet to be determined. The bridge, which is the oldest moveable span in the state, was deemed "structurally obsolete" by the state Department of Transportation last fall, which prompted a detailed study on the best way to address the span’s condition.