The town applied for the permit along with Cliff Duncan and the Windham and Windsor Housing Trust, each of whom owns the property on either side of the river. The project was given conditional approval for one year to allow a separate conditional use application by Duncan to be heard by the board. Duncan is seeking a permit to renovate his 36 West Main Street property, which one of the bridge footings sits on, to facilitate business interest from Zoar Outdoor.
While the bridge was installed with much fanfare last summer, the DRB says that that an application should have been submitted at the time of the project’s development. At that time, the bridge was not a municipal project and was technically in the possession of the man who donated it, Barry Reardon, until June 4, 2013. Because the bridge was not in the town’s possession at the time of its installation, and the town did not act as an agent at a permit hearing, the town is retroactively asking for this permit.
In their decision, the DRB said that the bridge meets the definition of an outdoor recreational facility and therefore needs a conditional use permit.
While the footings of the bridge are located horizontally across the river, questions have been raised about the bridge’s height, especially in its middle section, and its possible obstruction of the base flood elevation (BFE) of the floodway. At a hearing on March 8, Agency of Natural Resources Flood Plain Manager Josh Carvajal said that while the abutments were in the flood hazard area, the middle section is below the base flood elevation and therefore in the floodway. Carvajal also told the board that he had been provided insufficient information to complete his review. According to published reports, the bridge’s engineer, Merrill Mundell, has yet to produce a hydrologic and hydraulic (H and H) analysis model, which is required through the flood hazard criteria in the town zoning ordinance.
According to the criteria: “Development within the regulatory floodway is prohibited unless it has been demonstrated through hydrologic and hydraulic analyses performed in accordance with standard engineering practice, certifying the proposed development will result in no increase in flood levels during the occurrence of the base flood.”
Carvajal will review the complete application once the H and H study is completed, and one of four scenarios will be in play. First, the bridge could pose no impact to the BFE, and the ANR would give its approval. The next two options are in case there is found to be a rise in the upstream flood height. This would mean the bridge will need to be raised, or further mitigation measures must be taken. Last, if there is a rise in the upstream flood height, the applicants could request a conditional letter of map revision from FEMA, which would, in other words, entail modification of the floodway.
Based upon these four scenarios, the DRB put conditions on the permit. If Carvajal determines the bridge is in no way impacting the floodway, the conditional use permit would become permanent and no action would be necessary. If Carvajal determines there is a rise in the BFE, then the bridge will need to be raised to an appropriate height within one year to make the permit permanent, and if Carvajal deems other mitigation necessary, it will need to be completed within one year. If these three scenarios are not feasible, a new application will need to be submitted to the DRB within one year so that new testimony and additional information can be received.
According to Wilmington Economic Development Consultant Gretchen Havreluk, Mundell is ready to begin performing the study, but the town may decide to first speak to ANR about the possibility of raising the bridge, to save the town the cost of an H and H study. At the time the bridge was constructed, Havreluk said that Mundell and town manager Scott Murphy were given the go-ahead on the bridge construction by the wrong department of ANR, which led to the confusion.
Havreluk also said that the bridge may have been installed with the 1,058-foot BFE coming to the top of the bridge, instead of its bottom “The study could be a lengthy and costly process,” said Havreluk. “We want to get this done and resolved, but we’re also being cautious in confirming that this is the right process.”
The town will need to wait for the issuance of a permanent approval until after Carvajal gives his comments to the DRB.