Consensus on Saugatuck span’s future proves a tough gap to bridge
The Saugatuck River Bridge Study Subcommittee, after hearing sharply different views Wednesday on what to do with the historic span, is learning that forging a consensus on its future will be challenging.
One resident told the panel — established by the Representative Town Meeting to explore if the 131-year-old swing bridge should be declared a local historic landmark — that instead of preserving the bridge, it should be replaced with something more practical. The state is conducting a study of the bridge — formally, the William F. Cribari Memorial Bridge — after announcing last fall that deterioration and other problems with the metal structure had been identified.
“I am not in favor of saving the bridge as is,” said Dick Stein, who said he had motor vehicle accidents on it. “You’ve got to ask the question, ‘Why is this the last (such) bridge in the country?’ Because all the others fell apart (and) they got rid of them.
“The temporary bridge was probably the smoothest, best thing that ever happened in Saugatuck,” Stein said, referring to the structure in place across the river the last time major repairs were done some two decades ago.
“Most of us could care less what we drive over down here,” Stein added. “We really don’t care if it’s a historic bridge or a two- or three-lane highway. This is building a monument to an antiquated piece of steel that was put there for utilitarian purposes only — to get across the river.”
While subcommittee members listened to Stein’s comments, they noted that their charge from the RTM is to look into why it might be beneficial to have the bridge designated a historic landmark. While the final decision will rest with the span’s owner, the state of Connecticut, the panel aims to prepare a report underscoring that message.
But opinions also differed on how best to do that. One issue that prompted an argument was how much historic detail to include in the body of the report versus in the appendix.
“I don’t think that adds value,” Chairman Bob Weingarten said of some details regarding past controversies over the bridge. “It’s supposed to be to prove designation. We don’t prove designation by saying that half the town agreed, half the town didn’t.”
“I think it’s a fascinating story,” said member Morley Boyd.
“I have no problem putting all that information as a part of the addendum,” Weingarten said. “The main part of the report is supposed to be about designation.”
John Suggs, RTM District 5, gave an emotional defense of keeping as many details as possible in the front of the report, calling it “censorship” to do otherwise.
“You are practicing censorship and that is aberrant to my belief in democracy …,” he said. “You are simply telling a story and it’s important to tell a story truthfully. … People don’t typically read addendums.”
“It’s somewhat political to try to shade it …,” Boyd agreed. “You’re robbing people of the opportunity to learn the great story of how the town has taken these positions.”
Weingarten, however, maintained his position that all the information would be included in the report, but the presentation would be streamlined.
“It’s a form of censorship,” Boyd said.
“There’s a lot in here and sometimes less is better …,” said member Janet Rubel. “It’s too much. People are going to look at it and not want to read it.”
The subcommittee also was split on the issue of including adjacent property to the north of the bridge in the report.
“We’re not trying to preserve that land,” Weingarten said. “We’re trying to preserve the bridge.”
“How does that matter?” Boyd said. “With that logic you’d never form a historic district. Why would complication necessarily trump historic preservation?”
“I just don’t think there’s any need to add them. … The mandate was specifically for the bridge,” Weingarten said of the subcommittee’s mission.
The subcommittee approved the land addition, however, by a 3-1 vote, with Weingarten dissenting.
“You might want to go before the HDC in January and get their extended support,” noted Carol Leahy, the Historic District Commission’s administrator, as she said the subcommittee was likely expanding its charge with the change.