If you build it, who will shovel?

No agreement on who should clean Turners Falls-Gill bridge sidewalk

TURNERS FALLS — While residents have now cleared their sidewalks of several storms’ worth of snow this winter, the state, towns and construction company disagree on who should do the same for the Turners Falls-Gill Bridge.

The bridge is the property of the state, spans the border between the towns of Montague and Gill, is under reconstruction by contractor SPS New England, and none of the entities involved are willing to clear the sidewalk.

Footprints in the snow attest to the fact the bridge is used by pedestrians, some crossing to and from the Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Gill, or residents of Gill’s Riverside District walking into downtown Turners Falls.

Montague Chief of Police Charles “Chip” Dodge III received a complaint about the snow-covered walk after the first storms in mid-December, and asked a dispatcher to find out who is responsible.

“The construction company said now they’ve finished with the sidewalk, it’s no longer their responsibility. We contacted the state and they said that they’re not going to do it, and I believe the town of Montague doesn’t have the ability or the interest, because of the other things they have to do,” Dodge said.

As he hears it, the bridge hasn’t been cleared in years, except by a Gill teenager.

“It’s kind of a bummer because people are walking across the bridge in the travel lanes and it isn’t safe. I was hoping some organization would step up and take care of it, but it hasn’t happened,” Dodge said.

According to Montague Highway Superintendent Thomas Bergeron, there are technical and legal hurdles to clearing the walk, and his department has not done so in the years he has worked for the town.

“The state refuses to do it and we won’t do it because of liabilities, basically,” he said.

Bergeron said the issue isn’t clear, but as he understands it the state maintains it has signed over the sidewalk to the towns of Gill and Montague.

The town streets take priority for his department, followed by the parking lots, and it might be a day at best after a storm before his department has time to get to the bridge sidewalk. By that time, the DOT will have plowed the bridge, and he can’t blow the snow off the sidewalk to freeze in the street or over the rail onto the power company’s building or into the Connecticut River.

Sending sand and snow into the river would bring a call from the Department of Environmental Protection, and if pushed into the state-owned roadway, the town could conceivably plow it away but would be liable for any damage to the bridge.

“It may be one of those things where nothing will happen,” Bergeron said.

The Montague Highway Department will not begin to clear the walk unless told to do so by the Board of Selectmen, he said, and in 10 years of the issue coming up every year that instruction has not been made.

Before the bridge project began, Mitch Waldron of Gill cleared the walk for several years with a neighbor on his own initiative.

Mother Jennifer Waldron said her son began at age 12.

“He did it for I believe three years, that was because no one did it and he and our neighbor started doing it,” Waldron said.

He started with a shovel, using a snowblower when he was old enough to do so, but stopped after the first year of construction when the workers began clearing the walk for their own use, she said.

“He is now 15 and he isn’t doing it anymore, because it seems like when you have a new bridge somebody would take responsibility for it,” Waldron said.

Clearing the approximately third of a mile of sidewalk was definitely a chore, Waldron said, and Mitch now has his own small landscaping and snow-shoveling business.

As a resident of the Riverside section of Gill, Waldron said it is nice to be able to walk into Turners Falls.

“Now that we have a nice sidewalk and a nice bridge, it would be nice to be able to walk across it,” Waldron said. “A lot of Gill residents are very environmentally conscious and they would rather walk than use their vehicles.”

A Department of Transportation spokesman did not return a call for comment in time for publication, and Gill’s highway superintendent could not be reached on the busy snow day.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

It seems the problem for part of it is liability. The fear of being sued or getting the EPA on you for dumping snow into the river. Government and lawyers seem to make things worse. That isn't hard to believe anymore, they create more problems than they solve.

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