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Headquarters Road Bridge: Tinicum’s 12-year struggle


To alleviate the volatility and outrage surrounding seemingly endless delays in reopening the Headquarters Road Bridge, the Tinicum Board of Supervisors instituted agenda “updates” at each and every meeting — even if there’s not much to say — in the hopes of lessening pent up anger.

On Dec. 5, Chairman James Helms stated the board has yet to review a structural report from a group that’d provided funding for a bridge rehabilitation study.

“There are also four lawsuits still pending, working their way through the process through various appeals,” reported Helms.

Solicitor Steve Harris reviewed the status of each, with gloomy prospects that any would be resolved before next spring or summer.

When Helms opened the floor to questions, longtime resident and lawyer Valli Baldassano, who uses a wheelchair and normally cannot make it in person to meetings, delivered an impassioned observational statement to the board and the packed meeting room.

“I have read all the judge’s decisions, many pleadings, plus hearing board statements and have concluded what I believe any lawyer that looks at this would conclude — that the people who built this bridge in the 1800s interfered with the natural flow of the bridge,” she said. “The PennDOT bridge restores the natural flow.”

Baldassano then challenged the “frivolous appeals to these lawsuits,” reading aloud from the Rules of Professional Conduct for professional lawyers in Pennsylvania, stressing their codes around harassment, intimidation and misrepresentation.

“I believe the lawyers for (environmentalist groups) the Woodtiger Fund and the Riverkeepers Network violated that code,” she said. “When the first lawsuit was dismissed, with prejudice, what did they do? They didn’t file an appeal when they lost, they simply waited for the appellate time to run out and then filed another, almost identical case with a different judge in the same Eastern District of Pennsylvania. That’s misconduct right there.”

She asked the board to direct Harris to file a complaint with the Board of Governors of the PA Bar Association challenging the conduct of the lawyers involved before the next supervisors meeting.

“I am simply tired of being held hostage by a bunch of lawyers and rich people who have no real interest in us,” Baldassano said as applause spread throughout the room. “Enough is enough. I plan on living the rest of my good life here and I want to know I will have a safe bridge, that emergency services are going to be able to get to me. This is 12 years. C’mon, you guys. Let’s stand up and get on the offensive for once.”

And stand up the residents did with applause and cries of, “It’s time!”

Steven Gidumal is a key landowner involved in numerous lawsuits over the past two years. It is his land the Headquarters Road Bridge crosses. He said he expects to win the battle on the property issue, and when he does the entire permit process that has been filed for years will be moot. “You’re going to go back to square one.”

“Speaking of misconduct, PennDOT has attempted to move forward with a lie, and we intend to go after several PennDOT attorneys to get them disbarred,” he said. “Don’t go jumping on the bandwagon that we’re not ethical and they are so ethical, because they are not.”

Gidumal claims his corporation had been contacted by a potential bridge rehabilitation funder to reestablish a one-lane Headquarters Road Bridge.

Supervisor Richard Rosamilia asked whether his financing people are willing to come forward to face the board with their offer. Gidumal responded they want to be prepared to present a fully unified package and that will be approximately one month away.

Township historian Kathy Auerbach has been studying Headquarters Road Bridge for more than 20 years, as it is one of only two bridges of its type recorded on the National Register.

She reminded the board that 12 years ago when PennDOT closed the bridge “for repairs” — after the substructure was deemed to be in good shape — they instead left this historic bridge unrepaired.

Auerbach challenged Baldassano’s earlier claim that the original builders of the bridge changed the course of the creek.

“We have documented maps from around the 1790s, before the bridge was built, showing the path of the creek exactly where it is today,” she said. “The bridge has held the creek in its original path. PennDOT’s proposal to relocate the east and west bridge abutments will throw the stream into the meadows and dangerously alter its path.”

At one point, Rosamilia asked a hypothetical question: “If our studies show that a rehabilitated one-lane bridge could support the traffic and tonnage required for firetrucks and first responders and is fully funded by an outside source, would anyone have any objection to that?”

Resident Gary Wurtz replied, “I can speak for myself, but I bet I’m speaking for most people here — we just want a bridge!”

Helms summed up his feelings at the close of the 45-minute debate.

“For six years, we’ve been met by numerous arguments from all sides and Tinicum has been put in the middle,” he said. “We have said throughout my tenure we will do a rehabilitation if studies prove its integrity and we can find someone willing to come forward to fund it on behalf of the township. I would challenge Mr. Gidumal to have his group of potential funders actually come forward after talking about this and promising there is money somewhere available.”

When Rosamilia asked for patience, to wait “another meeting or two” for the results of the privately funded rehabilitation study and confirmation of the promised bridge funds, a resident sighed, “I think that’s reasonable, but we’ve been more than reasonable — 11 and three-quarters years, folks.”

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