Residents of the Briarwood section of Bourne are seeking an explanation as to why the Town of Bourne is delaying using state funds to make the necessary repairs to a bridge that provides access to their neighborhood.
An email to the board of selectmen dated July 23 asked that the subject of the Gardner Bridge be placed on the agenda for the selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday, July 28.
In January, state Representative David T. Vieira (R-East Falmouth) informed town officials that $200,000 in state funding had been earmarked for emergency repairs to the bridge. However, the state has asked that the Town of Bourne enter into an agreement to pay any repair costs beyond the $200,000 already earmarked.
Town officials have been unwilling to agree to that stipulation until the question of bridge ownership has been resolved. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has argued that the residents of Briarwood are the owners of the bridge and bear the responsibility for it.
Back in March, Town Administrator Anthony E. Schiavi said that until the question of ownership if resolved and the town receives permission from the actual owner to do the necessary work, he is hesitant to enter into a contract.
“Nobody’s claiming ownership of the bridge, but we certainly know it doesn’t belong to the Town of Bourne,” Mr. Schiavi said in March.
One of the authors of the email is Bourne town archivist Jean Campbell, who lives on Briarwood Lane. Ms. Campbell has disputed MassDOT’s position and said her research shows the bridge belongs to MassDOT.
Ms. Campbell also addressed the selectmen on the bridge issue during the board’s remote meeting on July 21. She explained that she has spoken to the selectmen and written to the state and the town about the ownership issue.
She told the board she is confident she has proven her case that the bridge belongs to MassDOT. Ownership responsibility was not the point, she said.
The point, she said, is that the state has appropriated money to be used to repair the Gardner Bridge. The repairs are work that badly needs to be done, she said. She then asked why the work is not moving forward.
Board chairwoman Judith M. Froman said because the email sent by Ms. Campbell was private correspondence and not a listed agenda item, under the state’s Open Meeting Law, the board could not respond to her query.
“But we will respond as a follow-up,” Ms. Froman promised.
The Town of Bourne was made aware in February 2019 that the bridge was unsafe. An inspection was done December 29, 2018, by the Massachusetts Coastal Railroad, which uses the tracks that run beneath the bridge.
MassDOT conducted its own inspection on January 26, 2019, and recommended the bridge be closed immediately to vehicular traffic. Bourne town officials ordered the bridge closed to all vehicular traffic in early March 2019.
Pedestrians and bicyclists can use the bridge. Cars driven by residents and emergency vehicles have had to use an access point on private property that crosses the tracks to reach the Briarwood neighborhood.