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10/6/06

Judge blocks Sparta bridge's removal

By LAURA BRUNO
DAILY RECORD

A 1911 one-lane timber and stone bridge in Sparta, set to be dismantled on Monday, was granted a one-day reprieve after a local homeowners association opposed the bridge's removal today.

Superior Court Judge Catherine Langlois in Morristown granted a temporary injunction prohibiting the state Department of Transportation from dismantling the structure known as Sussex County Bridge Q-25 on West Mountain Road on Monday.

The Lake Grinnell Association, which represents 45 homeowners living near the bridge, filed a lawsuit today asking the court to block the DOT's plans to remove the bridge and replace it with a new two-lane bridge. The lawsuit also contends Stillwater Township is violating a 1996 agreement to preserve and maintain the bridge due to its historic significance.

The case is scheduled for a hearing Monday before Superior Court Judge Theodore Bozonelis in Morristown.

"The information we received is that the bridge will be demolished and that they will try to save some pieces," said Stuart Lieberman, the Princeton attorney representing the lake association.

"We want this bridge preserved. We need the comfort of knowing this bridge will be preserved and not that they'll end up saying, 'Oh, sorry it couldn't be done.'"

The DOT agreed to dismantle the bridge and reconstruct it over a trout stream in Stillwater's Pond Brook Park, said Jerard Murphy, Stillwater's administrator. He said the plan does not violate the preservation agreement.

"We are trying to preserve this bridge," Murphy said. "Whatever materials are worth salvaging will be saved ... Demolish means crush up and put in a Dumpster, and that is not the intent of anybody on this project."

In the 1996 preservation agreement, the bridge is described as an artifact of the Lehigh and New England Railroad. The bridge has been considered eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

"The use of locally available materials -- timber and stone -- in 1911, a time when most structures were being constructed of steel, is significant," according to the agreement.

Murphy said Stillwater's park was specially designed to receive the historic structure.

"We'd love to have the entire structure, but we're not sure if some parts will be salvageable or if they'll be beyond repair," Murphy said.

The bridge has been closed to traffic for four years after an oversized truck damaged guard rails, according to the lawsuit. The bridge had been found substandard and structurally obsolete by the state 20 years ago.