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Citizens to pay for second opinion on bridge condition

Marie Havenga • Jul 17, 2019 at 12:00 PM

After the Ferrysburg City Council balked at paying for a second opinion on the condition of Smith’s Bridge, a woman who owns a summer home and a rental home in Ferrysburg offered to pay for another round of engineering inspection.

Ann Smith, who lives in Lansing but summers in Ferrysburg, committed up to $2,000 to pay for a second opinion.

The City Council voted 5-1 this week to accept Councilman Richard Carlson’s motion and Smith’s contribution. Councilwoman Kathleen Kennedy cast the lone dissenting vote.

“Council voted to let that happen, so we’re working to get it done,” City Manager Craig Bessinger said. “We’ll take any kind of help we can get. We always take free volunteers and free money.”

If a second engineer should come up with a different opinion on the health of the bridge over Smith’s Bayou, Smith said a third opinion may be necessary.

The May inspection report noted advanced deterioration of the bridge over the winter, but no place in the document did it recommend closing the bridge. However, on June 17, the City Council voted to close the bridge due to safety concerns. Pedestrian and bicycle traffic is still allowed after the bridge closed June 21.

The state requires bridge inspections every two years. Bessinger said the city has been paying about $2,000 every six months for inspections since the bridge has been deteriorating.

The cost estimate for replacing the bridge is $13 million. City officials have applied for grants in each of the past four years. The city will receive notice by the end of this year if it will be receiving any federal or state funds to pay for a new bridge.

In November 2017, Ferrysburg voters rejected a millage proposal to fund a new Smith’s Bridge. This past Monday night, council voted not to seek another millage at this time.

Smith, who said she has 30 years experience with grants and research and said she works with many engineers, thinks the cost of a second opinion will be less than $2,000.

“I have talked with a lot of engineers,” she said. “We had read the (bridge inspection) report and we found nothing in the report that stated that the bridge needed to be closed. We knew council seemed resistant (to paying for a second opinion). I talked to an engineering firm that offered to do it at their cost.”

As Carlson made the motion Monday night to get a second opinion, Smith sat in the audience at City Hall, near fellow resident and “Save the Bridge” advocate Jake Stearley.

“Kathleen Kennedy asked, ‘Are you going to add to your motion that the citizens are going to pay for this?’” Smith said. “Richard Carlson looked at us and we were shaking our heads ‘yes’ because we knew this was the only way council would do it. Jake told me, ‘Others will contribute. This isn’t going to all be out of your pocket.’”

Smith said she and Stearley have set up a crowdfunding page for contributions.

“I live five blocks away from the bridge,” Smith said. “It is totally impacting me. My biggest concern is the impact it’s going to have on our property insurance, because now we are farther away from the fire station and first responders.”

Due to deterioration and weight-limit restrictions in recent months, fire trucks were not able to travel across the bridge, even before it was closed.

“There’s a lot of concern by neighbors whether our property values are going to be impacted by this,” Smith said. “We all live in the community. We are all owners of that bridge. Therefore, we should all take part. Let’s get the people who have the expertise to pull together and come up with solutions.”

Kennedy said she doesn’t like the idea of a second opinion.

“We’ve used this company (Williams and Works) for many, many years,” the councilwoman said. “They’re a reputable company. We have paid our money for this advice of the engineer. We voted unanimously as a council to close it based on these findings.”

Kennedy said if another contractor/engineer doesn’t agree with the initial report and the city opens the bridge, the results could be tragic.

“If somebody gets hurt, then what?” she said. “I am not putting it on my conscience. I will err on the side of safety, every time. ... Nobody said anything, ever, until the bridge was closed.”

Councilman Mike DeWitt said the bridge closing should come as a surprise to no one.

“We’ve been telling you for 10 years the bridge needs to be replaced,” he said. “It’s gotten to the point that it’s unsafe. No other reputable engineer is going to say anything different.”

Councilman Scott Blease said he’s not willing to take any chances.

“Voters decided in November of 2017 they did not want to pass a millage,” he said. “It’s not an issue until you close the bridge — now it’s an issue because it’s closed. No, I don’t think a second opinion would be viable at this time.”

But once Smith agreed to pay for it, council jumped at the offer — except for Kennedy.

Bessinger will be in charge of picking the engineering firm and scheduling the second opinion inspection. He said the results will come to him, not to Smith, and will be part of the public record.

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