By REBECCA WEBSTER
Recorder News Staff
The Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook, commonly known as the Amsterdam pedestrian bridge, continues to await the passage of a maintenance agreement.
On Tuesday evening in Common Council chambers in City Hall, city lawmakers failed to pass a resolution to approve a bridge maintenance contract between the city and the New York State Canal Corporation.
Third Ward Alderwoman Gina DeRossi and 4th Ward Alderman David Dybas voted no to the contract, while 5th Ward Alderman Richard Leggiero voted yes and 2nd Ward Alderwoman Valerie Beekman abstained. First Ward Alderman Joseph Isabel was not in attendance.
"This could potentially hold off a $16.5 million job," said Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane after the vote. "I hope you all understand what exactly you're doing tonight."
There at the meeting from the Canal Corporation was Catherine Sheridan, director of maintenance and operations, Michael Shamma, acting chief engineer, and Joseph Savoie, acting director of the Canal Design Bureau.
Prior to the vote, Leggiero questioned the Canal Corporation representatives on a piece of the contract titled "Suspension, Abandonment, and Termination."
Shamma told the council that it sounded bad, but is actually a good thing for the city,
"If it actually happens, if the Canal Corporation decided to abandon the agreement, not the bridge, we take on all the responsibilities," he explained.
This satisfied Leggiero.
For others, it wasn't as simple.
Dybas told the council that his action started a month ago when the council had tabled the resolution so they could sit down and negotiate, and while City Engineer Richard Miller did a "fine job," Dybas felt the agreement did not represent what should be done. He said he would invite the Canal Corporation to come in and negotiate with the council.
Shamma told him that he can appreciate the concerns, but it is the attorneys who talk and make everything in the document legal.
"Eighty percent of what you say in an agreement is boiler plate, which we have to put in by law," Shamma said, adding later, "I think the agreement that you see in front of you, it's very standard. If there is something you don't understand, I will spend as much time with you as you need."
For DeRossi, her concerns came with the fact that the maintenance agreement is for 50 years.
"It's a lot of money that the city is going to be putting into this in terms of hiring someone, paying benefits, actually doing the maintenance," DeRossi said.
Shamma said it's a good point, but a 10-year agreement wouldn't make sense.
Sheridan told the council that 50-year decision came after they looked at the 100-year lifespan of the bridge.
"At the 50-year point, we would actually be taking on a major rehab project of the bridge and expending state funds," she explained. "At that point the maintenance agreement would change."
Shamma said this fact was true for every structure seen over the canal and Thruway, adding that the Canal Corporation would be responsible for the structural integrity of the bridge.
Thane encouraged the council to consider the bigger picture of what they were trying to do with waterfront development and downtown revitalization. She added that many developers are interested in local sites, like the Chalmers property, because they know the bridge is coming.
"This is Amsterdam's opportunity, but others do not get this," she said. "This is vitally important."
City Engineer Richard Miller briefly took the podium and told the council that in conversations with the Canal Corporation, they promised to provide the city with a barge, when possible, to do any repairs underneath the bridge. The city would be responsible for the normal maintenance, with the landscape, trees, walkways, lights, and the clearing of snow on the bridge.
Dybas said he felt it was just not the time to be discussing the agreement.
Following the discussion, Savoie said he wasn't surprised with the concerns.
"If we can rectify or solve these problems pretty quickly, it shouldn't hold up the project," Savoie said. "The alderman stated that 'we had five months to work on this.' We were understanding that it was being discussed, but it must have been a miscommunication."
Shamma said the project is a unique one and he understands when municipalities have concerns with the maintenance aspect.
"We continue to work on the design. It's not holding up design activities, but it's certainly something that has to be ironed out before construction can begin."
Following the council meeting Tuesday, Thane said she was disappointed with the overall decision of the council.
"I have heard the comment that Amsterdam never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity and I would hate to see this agreement drive the cost of this project up because it stalled the project, and it just makes us look bad," she said. "This is no different than a park or a highway that goes through the city. This is an agreement for the improvements that are being made to our city and we should pass it, so I'm hoping that with enough information, the council will go in that direction."