The Town of Montgomery will be required to pay for repairs to Walden’s Hill Street Bridge, the Orange County Supreme Court has determined. The ruling was issued Friday, after a lengthy legal battle between two municipalities.
Hill Street Bridge, nearly a century old, became too decrepit to safely travel across and was marked with a yellow flag by the New York State DOT in 2008, followed by a red flag in 2013. While the Town of Montgomery is responsible for the bridge’s maintenance, its officials were unwilling to repair or replace the structure due to the “financial burden” they and their residents would need to pay. After a decade of pleas from Walden’s community and first responders, the village took legal action against the town and its highway superintendent, Shaun Meres, starting in April 2023.
On January 5, several town officials submitted affidavits to the Orange County Supreme Court in opposition to Walden’s notice of motion, comprising statements from Meres, Town Engineer James Farr, and Town Attorney William Frank. These statements reiterated the town’s stance: The bridge would be too costly and its closure has had minimal impact on traffic and first responders for the past 15 years.
“The closure of the Hill Street Bridge only affects a portion of travel routes to Hill Street, and those routes actually affected are not affected substantially,” Meres wrote. “The added travel distance is generally under a thousand feet, and as this traffic would be in cars, the added travel time is perhaps a minute at most.”
Farr stated that Greenman-Pederson, an engineering company, estimated that the town would need to pay $700,000 to completely replace the bridge, which the town considered over budget.
“GPI’s representative, Herb Litts, an engineer, reported at a July 2022 meeting of the town board that the estimated cost of replacement was approximately $700,000,” Farr wrote. “This expected cost of replacement, to my knowledge, exceeds what funds are available in the Town budget for highway expenses.”
Richard Willey, the chief of operations for Walden and Montgomery’s ambulance corps, asserted that his ambulance corp has had no issues taking alternative routes following the bridge’s closure, and any concerns from Eric Shorette, the previous chief, do not reflect the corps’ current stance.
“The opinions expressed by Mr. Shorette are no longer the position of TOMAC and were previously issued in error,” Willey wrote. “The location of the bridge amidst the surrounding roads makes it so that TOMAC has used a nearby alternate route for the past 15 years.”
On January 24, Robert Zitt, Walden’s attorney, submitted an affirmation to the court containing responses to Montgomery’s affidavits. In his statements, Zitt argued that the defendants avoided their legal responsibility and downplayed the village’s concerns for the bridge’s condition. He asserted that, regardless of how big or small the impact is, the town still acknowledged that the bridge’s closure impacted the village.
“Notably absent from the town defendants’ opposition is any discussion concerning the statutory mandate imposed upon the town by New York State Village and Highway Law,” Zitt wrote.
“The town defendants also attempt to suggest that the impacts from the closure of the bridge are negligible, or insignificant, and that these would be outweighed by the potential costs to repair the bridge,” he continued. “At the same time, acknowledge that the closure has, and does have, an impact.”
Walden Village Manager John Revella declined to comment, when contacted last week, adding that he has yet to discuss the matter with the village board.