A crumbling 10-ton railroad bridge trestle no longer blocks New Haven’s West River, thanks to New Haven Republican mayoral candidate Joel Schiavone ’58.
But Schiavone’s attempt at a good deed has also collapsed — in far less time than the 40-year-old bridge. The state Department of Environmental Protection now says Schiavone failed to comply with state regulations when he and a scrap metal company moved the trestle on Sept. 25.
The removal of the trestle plowed up some benthic mud from the river bottom and destroyed some lower riverbank vegetation, said Kevin Zawoy, a DEP senior environmental analyst. The DEP may plant saltwater cordgrass to mend the damaged bank.
Zawoy said state authorization is required for work in protected tidal wetlands and that a permit has not been filed.
“It’s going to require some restoration,” Zawoy said. “Basically removing some material and putting in some new plants.”
In August, New Haven Riverkeeper Peter Davis approached Schiavone about removing the trestle because of his ties to the scrap metal industry. Schiavone located a contractor and his campaign paid the $1,200 cost for the two hour removal project.
Schiavone’s campaign manager Ted LeVasseur said the mayoral hopeful acted in the best interests of the community.
“The river was already a disaster, and we only helped to clean things up,” LeVasseur said. “Hopefully, somebody will thank Joel [Schiavone] in the end.”
The timeframe and restorer have not yet been determined. Schiavone has offered to repair the bank, but Zawoy said a wetland scientist might be necessary.
The DEP has not yet taken formal action and is still obtaining information. But Davis, who has removed 14 cars from New Haven rivers previously without trouble, does not expect that he or Schiavone will receive significant penalties.
In recent years, the bridge became a boating hazard. Half of the bridge, originally built in the early 1960s, had already fallen into the river and drifted toward the Long Island Sound. West Haven police patrolling the river on jet skis could not navigate upriver.
Davis said he has tried to remove the bridge since 1992.
“I finally couldn’t take it anymore and didn’t want the bridge there for another boating season,” Davis said.
Title searches by city and state departments suggested either Conrail or CSX owned the bridge. But both Conrail and CSX said that the bridge belonged to the other railroad. Neither company could be reached for comment.
U.S. Coast Guard officials claimed that inland waters are out of its jurisdiction. But a Coast Guard official said the bridge was a navigational hazard in a letter sent in January to the city, the DEP and the state Department of Transportation.
Still, no efforts were made to remove the bridge, and the city claimed it lacked the equipment to remove the bridge.
“It illustrates the ineffectiveness of the city’s bureaucracy,” said Susan Murphy, a Schiavone campaign volunteer.
In July, the DEP approached a company that offered to remove the bridge for $30,000.
“I knew it was an outrageous figure because I’ve removed barges from rivers for that cost,” Davis said.
Davis and other city workers also removed an additional 3000 pounds of trash this past spring from the West River, including numerous tires, scrap metal and toilets.
“It was not the pristine riverbank you’ll see in West Rock Park,” Davis said.
Davis intends to cut the pilings that supported the trestle with the New Haven Harbormaster’s underwater chainsaw this spring. He said he is unsure whether this task will require DEP permission.
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”20274″ ]