Published February 28. 2014 4:00AM Updated February 28. 2014 11:42PM
Mystic - The historic flood of March 2010 forced the closure of a small bridge on North Stonington Road in Old Mystic, cutting off one of the access roads to the Old Mystic Fire Department.
Four years later, the 80-year-old span remains closed despite repeated warnings by Fire Chief Ken Richards, who said the detour his trucks have to use poses a safety hazard to them and to other motorists.
He said he has repeatedly asked Groton and Stonington officials to fix the bridge; since the closure, he said, his trucks have been involved in 10 near-accidents at the intersection of Route 27 and Main Street next to the Old Mystic General Store.
"To me, it looks like they are dragging their feet hoping everyone will forget about it," he said this week. "I still don't have a date when it is going to get fixed."
But Groton Town Manager Mark Oefinger said Thursday that efforts have continued since 2010 to find a way to fix the bridge, which is located in both Groton and Stonington.
He said several issues have contributed to the four-year delay in fixing the span.
When the contractor for the project began work on the repairs in 2011, it discovered the design was flawed. A new deck was likely needed because the concrete had deteriorated, revealing the stream below. That work had not been part of the design.
Oefinger said discussions were then held with the engineering firm that designed the work, Purcell Associates of Glastonbury, to come up with an alternative plan. When that did not work, the towns began talks with Purcell to recoup the close to $100,000 they had spent on the work. Each town contributed $50,000.
Further complicating the negotiations was the subsequent acquisition of Purcell by Benesch, a national firm.
Oefinger said there is now a proposed settlement offer in place, which he plans to bring to the Groton Town Council for approval over the next few weeks. Stonington would also have to approve the settlement, which would return the bulk of the $100,000 to the towns.
"It has taken longer than any of us expected," acknowledged Oefinger.
Once the agreement is approved, Oefinger said the towns can seek an engineering firm to design a new plan and come up with an estimated cost. The towns would then have to approve additional money for the extra repairs. No cost estimate is available, and Oefinger was reluctant to predict when the work would be done.
He added that no one other than the fire department has complained about the closure, and he questioned whether the bridge is actually needed. He said that while he appreciates the fire department's desire to have a shortcut, a decision has to be made about whether the project is worth the cost.
Stonington First Selectman Ed Haberek said Wednesday that Groton is taking the lead on the project and refused to answer any questions about the work or Richards' warnings. He said he was not sure if he had received any letters about the problems from Richards, who said he has sent them quarterly to the towns over the past three years.
Richards pointed out that Stonington recently approved a $6.2 million bond to fix roads and athletic fields but did not appropriate any money to fix the bridge.
"There's something wrong if we can't bond money to fix this bridge," he said.
Richards said he was happy when the work originally began and the engineering firm assured him it could handle the department's heaviest truck. Now, he said, bad sight lines and cars parked along the side of road make navigating the intersection at the general store a hazard, as cars often fail to stop at the stop sign. He said that if drivers hit a fire truck, they could be seriously injured or killed.
The towns have tried to develop a repair that would keep the bridge in operation for another 10 to 15 years, Oefinger said. Despite the design problem, Oefinger said Purcell has a great reputation across the state and has done many projects for the town with no problem. He said the company has been "honorable" in first trying to come up with a solution and then a settlement.