FERRYSBURG, Mich. (GRAND HAVEN TRIBUNE) - The Ferrysburg City Council voted unanimously Monday night to close the West Spring Lake Road bridge, for safety reasons, to motor vehicle traffic. Pedestrian traffic will still be allowed.
Ferrysburg City Manager Craig Bessinger said the closure would happen as soon as signs are made, barricades are ready and notifications have taken place. An exact date was not available.
“It’s disappointing that something so drastic has to happen for people to take notice,” said Ferrysburg Councilmember Kathleen Kennedy, referring to a millage vote to raise funds for the bridge that was previously defeated.
Kennedy emphasized that, in her 10 years on Council, officials have repeatedly applied for grants and looked at many different options to fund bridge repairs or replacement. But the City has not had success.
“The problem is there’s just no money available, period,” said Councilmember Mike DeWitt. “I’ve been on Council 10 years. We’ve exhausted every option.”
DeWitt noted that following an April bridge inspection, the engineer reported that, since last October, the deterioration was happening 60 percent faster than it had been.
Councilmember Richard Carlson said the bridge columns were like straws with the tops collapsing. He said the only way to know precisely how bad it was would be to remove the decking on the bridge and look.
A proposal to spend $500,000 to re-deck the bridge was an ill-advised way to spend taxpayers money, councilmembers said, noting that it would buy 2-3 years of use, but the bridge was still in danger of collapse.
Based on the extent of the bridge damage, officials agreed that they couldn’t risk anyone’s safety — or risk the City being hit with a lawsuit — by keeping the bridge open.
In response to a question from resident Valerie Blondin, Mayor Pro-Tem Tim O’Donnell — who is also on the Ferrysburg Fire Department — said it wouldn’t be safe to allow emergency vehicles access, either.
Fire Chief Mike Olthof told those in attendance, with previous weight restrictions applied to the bridge, most of the City’s fire trucks were already being re-routed. Only the small pumper and the medical response truck were small enough to go across the bridge.
Blondin also asked about the safety of boaters passing under the bridge.
O’Donnell said they were not aware of any major problems from underneath, but there were discussions of directing boat traffic to go under only the middle of the bridge.
The state requires bridge inspections every two years. The City of Ferrysburg has been conducting the inspections, at a cost of about $2,000 each, every six months for the past year and a half — since the bridge was determined to be in serious condition.
Kennedy said officials are still looking into ways to keep the bridge open.
“We are still trying to get money for the bridge,” Bessinger said. “We put out a grant request in April. We’re doing another in July.”
Still, officials won’t know what happens with those requests until the end of the year, Bessinger said.
In the meantime, Bessinger and the City’s engineer met with the DEQ to go over what is needed for the permit process, so things can be lined up if money is obtained.
Bessinger also told Council, another millage vote could be put on the ballot as early as November.
Even if the City gets state and federal funds to rebuild the bridge, the City will be responsible for at least $3 million of the total $13 million needed, Bessinger said.
The City Manager agreed that the permit process could take a couple of years before a shovel could even be turned.
Kennedy said that she didn’t want to see the bridge closed.
“I drove over it six times today,” she said.
She also doesn’t want to see it completely removed.
“If that’s done, the state will never give us money to replace it,” she said.
Bessinger said that Smith’s Bridge was built by the Ottawa County Road Commission, but taken over by the City of Ferrysburg in 1985.
The bridge belongs to the City and it’s the City’s responsibility, he said.
Efforts to recruit help from neighboring jurisdictions have not been successful.
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