By Stephen J. Kotz
A nine-month-long stalemate between Southampton Town Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor and the Sagaponack Village Board over the planned reconstruction of the Bridge Lane bridge came to an end last week when Mr. Gregor abruptly announced that he would abandon the plan and ask the Southampton Town Board to turn the bridge over to the village.
“I have to be pragmatic,” Mr. Gregor said this week. “I have other projects that need to be done, and the town board told me they are not going to increase my highway budget next year.”
Mr. Gregor said he would ask the town board to allow him to use the $420,000 in town funds that were allocated for the bridge project four years ago to make road repairs elsewhere in town. As to a $500,000 federal grant that had been awarded for the bridge work, Mr. Gregor said he would seek an alternative use for it, so the town would not lose the fundng.
The highway superintendent also took a swipe at Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, who, he said, blocked his attempts to proceed with the work because she receives campaign donations from many of the bridge’s opponents. “Those are her people,” he said. “She receives hundreds of thousands of dollars from them. I can’t stand in the way.”
Ms. Throne-Holst could not be reached for comment by this paper’s deadline.
Since Mr. Gregor revealed the plan last winter, residents of Bridgehampton and Sagaponack have opposed his effort to rebuild the span connecting the two communities largely because it called for replacing narrow guardrails with wider ones and because curbing along the south side of the bridge that separates pedestrians from the road would be removed. Critics said the changes would both spoil the character of the bridge, which crosses Sagg Pond as well as encourage motorists to drive faster.
But Mr. Gregor countered that the work had to be done as planned to meet New York State safety standards and allow the town to collect the federal grant money.
Earlier this year, the Sagaponack Village Board offered to split the cost of the estimated $890,000 project, provided Mr. Gregor agreed to a revised plan that would meet its aesthetic concerns. Although the town board indicated a willingness to negotiate a compromise between the two municipalities, Mr. Gregor stuck to his guns.
Sagaponack Mayor Donald Louchheim said on Tuesday that he had been informed by Supervisor Throne-Holst last week of Mr. Gregor’s decision to give up the fight, but said the village board, which next meets on September 8, had yet to receive official notice from the town that it would turn the bridge over to it.
“I believe that papers are being drafted to effect the transition,” he said. “This is the result we wanted.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Gregor said he had asked that the town be reimbursed the approximately $80,000 it had spent in engineering and design fees for the bridge.
“I believe we are coming to a resolution,” said Councilman Brad Bender, who has served as liaison to the project and said the town attorney’s office is working on paperwork that would allow the transfer, while stressing that the details had yet to be ironed out.
“I think Alex came to the conclusion that it was best to let Sagaponack take the lead on this because it is their village,” he said.
But Mr. Gregor said his decision had been spurred in part by the uproar in Water Mill over his attempt to place a sign at Rose Hill Road designating it as Sister Jackie’s Way in memory of a nun who was killed by a hit-and-run driver there two years ago. Some residents of the street opposed that measure, saying it reminded them of the tragedy, but Mr. Gregor said that was a slap in the face to the nuns who own a retreat house on the road. The town board eventually had the sign removed.
“After something like that in Water Mill. The 1 percent wins,” said Mr. Gregor. “I’m a 99 percenter and I have the responsibility to do the best I can. And the greater good is to move on and fix things.”
Mr. Gregor said he expected the funding would be transferred to repairing culverts in Eastport, North Sea and the Riverside-Flanders area that are in disrepear.
Mr. Louchheim said once the bridge is turned over to the village, Sagaponack will move quickly to take on the most serious repairs. “This isn’t rocket science,” he said of the project while stressing that when the time is factored in to craft deal with the town, come up with a new design, and put the project out to bid, it would be difficult to finish the work before winter.