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Residents continue to express anger with Selectboard over Brookside Road bridge closure, may take up to four years for replacement

"We will continue to seek answers from this board, from the county, the state, federal representatives, whatever is necessary," Great Barrington resident Deborah Ryan told the Selectboard. "We need some direction, because we truly don't want to live this way for the next four years.”

Great Barrington — During the public comments portion of the Selectboard meeting on Monday, June 24, residents continued to criticize the board over the closure of the Brookside Road bridge.

The bridge, which was the primary connection to town for residents who live up Brush Hill Road, as well as providing critical access to and from Camp Eisner, was unexpectedly closed by the state’s Department of Transportation on May 2. On May 22, MassDOT officials informed town officials that the bridge would remain closed until it is completely replaced.

In an email after town officials met with MassDOT, Town Manager Mark Pruhenski wrote that the structure of the bridge, which was built in 1949, is not in good shape. “Repairs to the bridge or a temporary structure, while possible, are not recommended,” Pruhenski wrote in his email. “Both options would only delay and complicate the full replacement. A temporary crossing would also jeopardize funding sources.”

Pruhenski wrote that the expected timeline for the design, permitting, and replacement for the bridge is four years, and the estimated cost for the project is in the “$3.4 million range.”

At the June 24 meeting, residents told the board that they wanted the bridge reopened sooner than later, even if a temporary bridge is installed.

Deborah Ryan, who lives on Brush Hill Road, told the board that she and her family moved to Great Barrington 13 years ago. “Our real estate agent at the time told us that Great Barrington has higher taxes than a lot of towns in the area, but we really felt that paying higher real estate taxes was an important trade off for us,” Ryan said. “We learned several years ago that the bridge was badly in need of maintenance and repairs. It was no surprise to us because we crossed that bridge every day. We trusted that those needs would be taken care of by the town that we love and the town that we support.”

Ryan said that her family has to drive a detour of 15 miles round trip to get to Great Barrington “on a road that’s very poorly maintained, and frankly, pretty dangerous.”

According to Google Maps, a trip from Brush Hill Road to Main Street, without having access to the Brookside Road bridge, would take at least 22 minutes one way. “It’s down to one lane in some places in the road, which has blind curves, and it has no shoulders in a lot of places,” Ryan said. “The other detour that we’re faced with is roughly 25 miles round trip, and that’s on some hills and curves that are going to be pretty treacherous for us in the winter time. We have the other unattractive option of leaving the home that we love in order to put ourselves closer to necessary goods and services. If we did that, we’d expect to take a hit in our home value during the long and uncertain delay [of waiting for the bridge to reopen].”

Ryan said that she, along with other residents, are requesting that the town set up a temporary bridge which would allow for at least one lane of traffic to flow through the area. “The response we’ve had to date [from the town] is that such a temporary solution would result in both timing delays for a permanent bridge and additional expense, but we don’t have either the amount of time or the amount of extra expense specified [by MassDOT],” Ryan said. “We understand that getting permits and putting a budget together takes some time, but we respectfully ask for some clarification and some specificity as to what our options are. We will continue to seek answers from this board, from the county, the state, federal representatives, whatever is necessary. We need some direction, because we truly don’t want to live this way for the next four years.”

Jessica Krupski, who lives on Water Farm Road in Sheffield, spoke for her husband Robert, who serves as a plumbing inspector for Great Barrington’s Building Department. “We’ve been here for 49 years, and my husband’s the inspector for other South County towns as well,” Krupski said. “Now he has to drive 20 extra miles just to get to most of his inspections, which is absolutely outrageous. The towns are certainly not going to reimburse him for gas. The bridge in Baltimore is going to go up faster than that. There’s no excuse. [The bridge] has been through neglect, negligence, and it’s a bit of what we’ve gone through with Great Barrington for many years because they really don’t care. But there are many of us on that road who need ambulances, fire [response], and just convenience. We live there and we pay the taxes to be near the town. All of the sudden we’re not near the town, and the traffic on the side roads has increased exponentially. It looks like we’re being ignored, and they’ve put up cones and said, ‘We’ll see you in four years.’ Does anyone have any answers for that?”

Selectboard Chair Stephen Bannon told Krupski that the board could not answer inquiries about the bridge at the meeting because it was not listed on the meeting’s agenda. However, the Selectboard later decided to put on the next meeting’s agenda a discussion on the town’s bridges, including the Brookside Road bridge.

The next regular Selectboard meeting is scheduled for Monday, July 8, 6 p.m., at Town Hall.

In other business: During the Selectboard comments portion of the meeting, Vice Chair Leigh Davis formally requested the public release of executive session meeting minutes from the Housatonic Rest of the River Municipal Committee. Davis read her written request to Town Manager Pruhenski, in which she requested that the executive session minutes be discussed at the Selectboard’s July 8 meeting. “Transparency and accountability are essential for maintaining the public’s trust in our local government and are the cornerstone of effective governance,” Davis wrote. “For this reason, I believe that these minutes will provide the communities impacted by the Rest of the River agreement—Lee, Great Barrington, Lenox, Sheffield, and Stockbridge—with a clearer understanding of the decisions made and discussions held by our elected officials and appointed representatives.”

Davis requested that the executive session minutes to be publicly released include:

  • Executive session minutes that foreshadowed the 2020 final settlement, including the mediation process and its minutes from February 23, 2018, through February 5, 2020; and
  • Executive session minutes compiled during the mediation agreement.

“I am aware that the minutes may be subject to confidentiality requirements, necessitating approval from all involved parties for their release,” Davis wrote. “Additionally, I understand that content protected under client-attorney privileges may need to be redacted. Transparency builds trust and fosters civic engagement, allowing residents to feel informed and involved in matters that impact their lives and the future of our town. By releasing these minutes, we can ensure that our community members are fully aware of the deliberations that affect them and can participate more meaningfully in the governance process.”

Also during the Selectboard meeting, the board reviewed the new design for the town’s website.

A screenshot of the design of the town’s new website, which was reviewed by the Selectboard at its meeting on June 24.
The bottom half of the redesigned website’s front page.

The board did not announce a target date for launching the new website.

According to Town Manager Pruhenski, the upgrades to the town’s website were previously approved by residents at the 2023 annual Town Meeting for $30,600. The town is using Manhattan, Kan.-based company CivicPlus for its website.

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