Flanked by Orange County officials, Congresswoman Nan Hayworth on Thursday called on the state to release nearly $2 million in federal funds to repair a bridge over the Moodna Creek that was damaged by last year's tropical storms. Just one problem: Orange County hadn't yet filed the paperwork for the money.
It's been a year since the Forge Hill bridge in New Windsor was nearly washed away by tropical storms Irene and Lee, which caused at least $50 million in damage in the county, and Hayworth said the project is caught up in "red tape."
"It should not take a year to repair an existing bridge," the Republican lawmaker said at a news conference Thursday, joined by county and town officials. "This is a major thoroughfare for the people of New Windsor and Orange County."
Repairs to the storm-damaged bridge are estimated to cost more than $2 million, with 80 percent of the replacement cost to be paid by the Federal Highway Administration. The other 20 percent will come from county funding.
A spokeswoman for the FHWA said Thursday that the funds have been approved as part of a $90 million package for the state, and said the New York State Department of Transportation was working with county officials on the paperwork and permits to get the project moving.
Sue Stepp, a spokeswoman for the state DOT, which serves as a conduit for the federal funds, said one of the reasons for the delay is that the county didn't request emergency funding to repair the bridge, which would have fast-tracked the process.
"They knew the repairs were going to be more involved, so they went the FHWA route," she said.
Stepp said the state DOT can't request federal funding until they receive a signed agreement from the county, which they hadn't received yet. County officials, who offered no explanation as to why the paperwork was never filed, were expected to hand deliver that document to the state DOT on Thursday.
Hayworth said she sent a letter to the DOT a month ago inquiring about the status of the project, but said she hadn't heard back from them. DOT officials acknowledged that they haven't yet responded to the congresswoman's letter.
Orange County Executive Ed Diana, who attended Thursday's news conference, said the county is ready to fix the bridge.
"We need that money to be released," the Republican leader said. "The red tape has to stop."
Town of New Windsor Supervisor George Green said the devastation caused by the storms was historic, and said the bridge closure has divided the community and disrupted traffic with motorists trying to find routes around the bridge.
"I've lived here all my life and I've never seen it this bad," he told Newsday. "We need this bridge repaired."
The bridge is one of dozens in the Hudson Valley damaged by the storms. Further up Moodna Creek, the state is preparing to spend $2.7 million to repair the State Route 32 bridge over the creek, part of a $36 million relief package.
The Forge Hill bridge, which was replaced about a decade ago, remains mostly intact; but floodwaters caused a portion of the road to collapse into the creek. Huge chunks of concrete lie beneath the bridge, with tree limbs and other debris.
Hayworth's push for federal assistance for the repairs comes as she faces criticism from her Democratic challenger, Sean Patrick Maloney. He has suggested that she hasn't done enough to secure federal disaster funding for the region in the wake of the storms.
Maloney's campaign issued a statement Thursday dismissing her efforts as election year campaigning.
"Congresswoman Hayworth voted with the Tea Party to kill bills that would put construction workers on the job repairing bridges like this and stood with the Tea Party in slow-walking disaster aid for Irene victims," Maloney's campaign said. "With Election Day coming, Congresswoman Hayworth can say whatever she wants, but no one will forget that she abandoned us when we needed her most."
Hayworth's campaign said her efforts to get federal funds for the bridge project has nothing to do with the criticism and argues that the congresswoman has been at the forefront of the effort to secure disaster relief for the region.
State officials have estimated that Irene and Lee caused upward of $1 billion in damage statewide.