Phoenicia Bridge opening welcomed

By Jay Braman Jr.
There were plenty of smiles on faces Friday morning on the Bridge Street Bridge in Phoenicia. More than 100 actually.

It was unusual to see that many people in one place in the Town of Shandaken hamlet, and even more unusual to see them all on a bridge at the same time.

But Friday morning was a special occasion. It was the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the bridge, a span that was crippled last August when Tropical Storm Irene flooded the Esopus Creek, which usually runs below the bridge, to well over the top of its pavement.

In a community where every tourist and every dollar counts, the reopening was a welcome event that for some was late, but better late than never.

Ulster County Executive Mike Hein, the official master of ceremonies at Friday’s event, joked with Shandaken Supervisor Rob Stanley about the timing of the opening.

Ahead of schedule
Hein said when he first announced the bridge would be rebuilt he said it would be completed by the Fourth of July, but the town said that wasn’t good enough.

Following applause to Hein’s remark that the county got the job done by Memorial Day instead, Stanley took to the microphone and issued a backhanded compliment.
Saying he was ecstatic that the county came through for Phoenicia he added, “Of course, we asked for Easter weekend.”

Despite the chuckles that followed, Stanley made it clear that this reopening was serious business.
He said the bridge was “pivotal to the local economy,” a sentiment that some from the local business community nodded to in agreement.

Sue Oakley, the owner of the pancake destination Sweet Sue’s Restaurant, was asked if the bridge being closed since last August hurt business. “Definitely,” she said.

For Dave Pillard, the proprietor of Main Street gift shop Tender Land, the bridge opening made the difference between being open and being closed this summer.

When it got to be the end of March and there was still no word on if or when the bridge would reopen, Pillard considered temporarily shutting his shop down. The bridge, he said, is the main artery for the business district, and without it staying open seemed implausible.
After the ribbon cutting, Pillard said that this was an occasion where government listened to the people, and stepped up.

“When people in government care, things get done,” he said. “It’s a vote of confidence in our community. Our livelihoods and safety were on the line. Mike Hein knew that and did something about it. Phoenicia is not only back, but it’s better.”

Hein also held a ribbon-cutting ceremony earlier in the week for a new bridge in the Oliverea Valley.
Last August 28, Cascade Brook turned into raging floodwaters, severely damaging the road deep in the Oliverea Valley. The damage created a crevasse 30-feet deep by 50-feet across, requiring a bridge to be built in a place where no bridge had previously been needed.