DOT weighs in on Cribari bridge, preservation considerations
WESTPORT — An expert on the National Register of Historical Places explained to a crowd gathered at Town Hall Monday night how certain laws will influence the future of the William F. Cribari Memorial Bridge.
The July 17 session followed last week’s announcement by First Selectman Jim Marpe that he will not support setting aside $40 million in funding to rebuild the bridge, which sits on the National Register of Historic Places. Marpe cited uncertainty about the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s plan for the bridge.
DOT National Register Specialist Mark McMillan outlined two laws to a group of 20 — the National Historic Preservation Act and “Section 106” — which he characterized as procedural laws that require the consideration of impacts to the environment and historic preservation.
McMillian explained the laws do not dictate any result, but simply that impacts are considered, alternatives are weighed and the public is heard as DOT plans a rehabilitation of the bridge.
The DOT’s rehabilitation study report concluded either “major rehabilitation” or “structure replacement” was necessary over a year ago, but no further designs have been made.
The South Western Region Metropolitan Planning Organization will hold an Aug. 17 vote of its members — town leaders including Marpe — on whether to add funding for the project to the state’s list of federally-funded DOT projects for the next four years.
After initially expressing uncertainty, Marpe announced his intention to vote “no” last week.
Evaluating the criteria that has given the Cribari Bridge a spot on the national register, McMillan said he believed significant historical aspects of the bridge have been changed over time. Constructed in 1884, a state rehabilitation project was carried out from 1989 to 1991.
He noted he would no longer see a strong argument for its listing as an example of architecture/engineering in American history due to the changes, though he would be more convinced it meets criteria to represent a pattern of American historical events.
“I know that’s not going to be a popular opinion,” McMillan said.
Public Works Director Steve Edwards spoke at the meeting and said the bridge’s importance lies in its character, which has been maintained despite changes and contributes vitally to the overall Saugatuck area.
John Suggs, RTM-5, and a member of the Westport Preservation Alliance read aloud from a portion of a February testimony of state DOT Commissioner Jim Redeker regarding a house bill that emphasizes the procedural nature of the laws.
“The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and its state counterpart, the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA). Both acts require we consider impacts to water and air quality, endangered species, and social justice as well as historic preservation,” Suggs read. “These Acts are procedural in nature — meaning they only require that consideration is duly given. Neither act requires preservation as an outcome of this review.”