Gadfly by Mort Malkin
Earth-Care work is never done. First, there was the threat of energy transmission from Canada – clean energy from water power to be sure – but destined for New York City where they have energy enough for now and have yet to exploit all the tidal and wave energy around the five boroughs. The proposed transmission lines and towers would have created visual pollution and electromagnetic chaos down the Valley.
The conflict ended when the transmission company, after a couple of public meetings, decided the residents of the valley were irrationally opposed to the entirely reasonable power project, and their actions so unpredictable, it had best find other markets and other routes to use.
Peace reigned, but not for long. Halliburton, under the CEOship of Dick Cheney in the 1990s developed the technique of high pressure, high volume, hydraulic fracturing (fracking) whereby the bedrock was split open to release small pockets and bubbles of natural gas. The bedrock of Mother Earth! She may not take kindly to such assault and could send out the goddess of unpredictable consequences to teach the frackers some respect. The people of the Delaware Valley – 15 million who depend on the Delaware River for clean water – put on a full court press and deluged the White House with mail, e-mail, phone calls, and in-person demonstrations at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The chief Resident of the White House decided to offer a moratorium on gas drilling in the Delaware Valley, to avoid having to repeal the exemption to the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and Safe Drinking Water Act. The Delaware River was still safe.
A new threat involves the historic Pond Eddy Bridge over the Delaware River a little south of Barryville, connecting the Pond Eddy settlement on the PA side with the hamlet of Pond Eddy on the NY side. The Bridge is 111 years old – historic landmarks tend to be old – and was meant to carry vehicles of the time, not 5,000 gallon Fire Engines. The Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania had previously announced, “Pennsylvania is open for business,” and it is suspected that he saw the bridge and the settlement of Pond Eddy as a perfect opportunity to open the surrounding state forest and gamelands to gas drilling. PennDOT was assigned as the lead agency. PennDot wasted no time. The agency expressed a newfound concern that the 26 homes in Pond Eddy could not be serviced by a modern fire truck because the only roadway to the settlement is over the bridge from the New York side. The bridge is only rated for a maximum of 8 tons, and an 8 ton fire truck would get little respect from the neighbors. Besides, the venerable old bridge was in need of repair. PennDOT’s solution to this serious problem was a 13+ million dollar, new multi-span bridge across the river, a bridge that could also handle heavy construction trucks that would be used for gas drilling rigs and pads.
The details of the replacement plan were so outrageous they belong to the world of satire – worthy of Jonathan Swift. To repair the venerable old bridge would require the replacement of 8 truss pins. But, says PennDOT, the bridge would have to be fully supported while the 8 pins were being changed, a costly undertaking. The minor matter of what to do with the old landmark bridge arose to complicate Pennsylvania’s plan. New York would not agree to blowing up the structure, not even in a July 4th celebration. Plan B was to hold an auction, and the winning bidder could just move it off to some side stream. Well, the auction actually was held, but failed to receive a single bid. So, Pennsylvania said that the bridge between two states should fall under interstate commerce and become the responsibility of the federal government. In a spirit of generosity the bilateral bridge commission would sell it to the feds for only $1. Then, to build the shiny new bridge, a way had to be found to get the concrete, gravel, and other heavy stuff across to the PA side. The plan was to build a causeway of crushed rock and gravel that would support heavy construction trucks. The River would, of course, have to be turned off, but only for about two years.
The Gadfly Revelry and Research team (GRR) looked over the ridiculosity of the whole situation and thought it was deserving of a few words. With the help of a document from the NY Office of Historic Preservation, a group of GRR poets, artists, cyber wizards, and common sensensarians all agreed that the 1904 landmark bridge ccould be kept in service at minimal cost. Here are a few of their suggestions. They can be used singly or in a number of combinations.
- Station a fire truck on the PA side of the river and equip the fire fighters who live on the NY side with racing bicycles to dash across the bridge when the klaxon horn sounds.
- Run a ferry (barge) service across the River to transport the very few cars that use the bridge each day, and keep the historic bridge for pedestrians and cyclists.
- Have the Army Corps of Engineers design a heavy duty pontoon bridge that would not require shutting off the Delaware River. A fish ladder would not be needed, as would be necessary with a causeway, though a canoe and kayak ladder would.
- Rehabilitation of the landmark bridge, even upgrading it to 18 tons, would be routine. Two-foot plates would be welded to the trusses for support while the 8 pins were being replaced. Hey, it’s only 8 pins – just have the new stainless steel or titanium new pins ready to go. The addition of 2×20 pressure treated boards would make the bridge like new. It would be inexpensive, fast, and a matter of basic engineering. There would be no need for structural support with staging and no need to close the bridge for months at a time.
- A financial solution to finesse the question would be to buy the 26 homes on the PA side. They have a total market value of $2.25 million. The present homeowners should be happy to receive twice that amount: $4.5 million – far less than the $13 million a new concrete bridge would cost. The $8.5 million difference could be dedicated to a fund for maintenance of both the Pond Eddy bridge and its sister bridge at Skinners Falls over the next century.
PennDot can go back to looking after traffic safety and leave the historic structures to the agencies whose job it is to preserve historic sites.