Owner of dangerous bridge asks neighbors to chip in for repairs

Dingman. PA Rep. Mike Peifer and PA Senator Lisa Baker say they recognize the urgency of the problem, which is “going to require a tremendous amount of cooperation” legally and financially to fix.

| 06 May 2021 | 09:33

Babette Smith says she never refused to pay for repairs to the dangerous bridge that has trapped five households in Dingman Township.

But she doesn’t have the money to pay for the costly project herself. In a letter to the editor, the 74-year-old retired widow says she is raising a special-needs grandson and is incumbered by medical bills from her husband’s bout with cancer. The permit application alone is $1,500, she said, and repairs can cost up to $40,000. She’s asking her neighbors to chip in.

“The equity in my home is just not there,” she said. “If the three other homeowners on the property were willing to pay their share, we could go forward with the process.”

“The expectation that I can do this on my own is an unreasonable expectation,” she said. Her neighbors are aware of her situation, she said, and she is distressed that they have portrayed her as uncaring.

Suzanne and David Geissler bought their home in 1991 and have deeded access to the bridge. “We don’t have any shares,” they write in a letter disputing Smith’s claim. “She is the sole owner of the bridge....The other three households have no ownership or share of the bridge....We are not an association or an HOA or a road maintenance situation. We all own our own property, and we all maintain what we do own. We all just wanted to make that clear.”

The community’s state representatives, PA Rep. Mike Peifer (R-139) and PA Senator Lisa Baker (R-20), are looking for ways to help these families. Peifer said his office was in communication with Smith going back to 2016. “We have seven separate entries whereby my staff specifically identified a discussion (with) Ms. Smith,” he said in an email, detailing the dates and issues discussed (please see sidebar)

Peifer and Baker issued a joint statement saying they are looking at potential remedies:

“There are grave concerns surrounding the structural integrity of the Wyckoff Lane bridge, and the negative impacts that it is having on local property owners are extremely troubling. It is clear that the bridge needs to be repaired in order to ensure that the residents utilizing the bridge can travel safely, as well as to allow service providers to reach these properties. How this is accomplished is a more difficult question. The Commonwealth’s Constitution places limits on the General Assembly to enact ‘special legislation’ and appropriating funds for a non-public purpose.

“While the constitution and state law make clear what cannot be done in these situations, we are continuing to explore possible ways that the state could assist with repairing the bridge. We are committed to working with officials at every level to try and figure out a path forward given the urgency of the situation, but any potential remedies are going to require a tremendous amount of cooperation and agreement, both legally and financially.”

PA Rep. Peifer shared these notes from previous discussions with Smith:
11/4/16 Research request – response.....Unfortunately, no; there are not grants for this type of funding.. There are very few, if any, state grants given to private individuals – excluding student aid grants on a limited basis. Sorry.
9/26/17 Discussion with Wilkes Barre DEP. Matt Osterberg told her to contact Conservation office. Looking for guidance. I will email liaison – DEP. (Ssummarized)
9/27/17 Talked with DEP in WB. 2 contacts. (Summarized)
9/27/17 DEP mailing copy of permit. Thanked us for the help. (summarized)
11/1/17 Ms. Smith emailed Mike looking for help getting people motivated. (summarized)
11/3/17 Left message for Ms. Smith to call me. (from staff)
11/6/17 Ms. Smith called me back. Received copy of permit but isn’t what she needed. She has called architectural firm and emailed them 3 times and no one has gotten back to her. (summarized)