Residents demand that Longbridge Road must be fixed.

September 12, 2019

Residents demand that Longbridge Road must be fixed.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

HART – “Fix the damn road!” could be heard during an Oceana County Road Commission meeting Wednesday, Sept. 11, that drew a crowd of approximately 70 people.

The phrase, which then-candidate Gretchen Whitmer used during her bid for governor in 2018, hits close to home for the residents on flooded Longbridge Road in Pentwater Township.

Longbridge Road, which crosses Pentwater Lake at the Pentwater River oulet, has been closed since last May 1 due to flooding caused by the high water level and heavy rains last spring.

Recent high water levels have caused numerous infrastructure problems in the Great Lakes region.

– Oceana County Road Commission photo

Residents must take a 14-mile detour to get to the other side of the lake. They cited safety concerns caused by longer emergency response times; financial difficulties due to the increased mileage; long bus rides for children; environmental concerns due to the longer commutes; and safety concerns caused by the crumbling pavement on Wayne Road and 72nd Avenue – the roads traveled in the detour.

The Oceana County Road Commission stated in a joint press release with Pentwater Township issued Tuesday, Sept. 10, that the road can be reconstructed this spring as long as $400,000 in funding is acquired for the project.

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Residents demanded that the road must be fixed sooner than spring and that the road commission has money to fix it. The road commission’s small meeting room was packed to the full 27-person capacity, and overflow audience members stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the office area.

“We were all pleased to see the press release you and Pentwater Township issued yesterday in which you said the roadbed could be fixed next spring,” said Mark Trierweiler. “But at the same time were troubling details about needing to raise money the road commission has already collected and has in its accounts, according to your own financials. The disclaimers look more like wiggle room on something that should have been ready for fixing the day you closed the road – if only there had been any planning.

“Critically, there was no mention whatsoever of reopening Longbridge Road to end our nightmares,” Trierweiler said.

– Oceana County Road Commision photo

“If you needed our help or funding, you never told us. Most of us believe in fair wages and working conditions and would be happy to work with you to correct problem areas you may have. But as your constituents, we demand quicker action and significantly better communication. And we want the road opened ASAP.

“We don’t understand how the road commission could collect taxes for a closed county highway like Longbridge Road, for decades, knowing for decades that the roadbed was sinking – and never accrue the funds to repair it in your budget,” he said.

Trierweiler said the minutes of the Pentwater Fire Department’s Aug. 7, 2019 meeting state: “Medical first responders are being adversely affected by the Longbridge Road closure.”

“If we need an ambulance, that could cost you your life, depending on the emergency” he said. “An additional 20 minutes just to get you in and out – and another 20 minutes to the hospital. One of my neighbors recently experienced a serious chainsaw accident and said the ambulance was delayed.

“So, let me end with our demand,” Trierweiler said. “Longbridge Road must be reopened as soon as the road surface dries out, by whatever means necessary, even if you have to raise the roadbed two feet with gravel. A bumpy, dirty road is a heck of a lot better than no road.”

Amy Fleming and neighbor Amber Jaeb addressed the board about the difficulties they experience getting their children back and forth to school due to the road closure. The kids who live on Longbridge Road have an hour bus ride one way, they said. What used to be a 2 1/2 mile drive to the school is now 11 1/2 miles. “I expect it will be longer in the winter,” said Jaeb.

“This is a public safety issue,” Ron Beeber said after the meeting. “It’s not about people being inconvenienced.

“All of us in Oceana County depend on first responders to be able to quickly get to us, our families and friends in a medical emergency. So, I was stunned to read the Pentwater Fire Department stated in recent meeting minutes the its first responder response times are being adversely affected by the Longbridge closure. Winter weather will only make it worse.”

Gary Peterson said he counted 31 potholes on the detour route, some of which have a 6-inch diameter. “We’re tearing up that road,” he said.

“I don’t understand why you can’t temporarily fix the road,” said Bob Beckman of Beckman Brothers excavating company. “I think you could get it up and running in the winter and permanently fix it in the spring. It’s hard to believe a mud puddle is keeping us from using the road.”

“Why is this road being treated like a red-headed stepchild?” asked one resident.

Ed McNeely, the road commission’s attorney, said the road commission is liable and must ensure the road is fit for public travel. McNeely said the road commission can enter into an agreement with an adjacent community to contribute toward the cost of fixing the road.

Oceana County Road Commission Managing Director Mark Timmer said Sen. John Bumstead (R-Newaygo) has been working to acquire funds to fix the primary road. Timmer said that the road would not likely qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds. “It has to be catastrophic failure – it has to be washed out. It’s flooded.”

“Four hundred thousand dollars is a real expensive fix for one road,” Timmer said. “People think we have unlimited money – most of the money is for maintenance.”

According to the road commission’s Dec. 31, 2018 audit, its “unrestricted deferred overflows of resources is $1,235,723. Its checking and savings account has a balance of $1,028,259 and a “carrying amount” of $951,026.

“We will get that road opened as soon as we can” said road commission Chairman William Myers.

“I was glad to hear Mr. Timmer say that Longbridge is indeed a primary road,” Beeber said. “Since public safety is being jeopardized, and this primary road has been closed for over four months, it’s time to get at least one lane of the bridge open as soon as possible.”

“After attending the meetings of both the Oceana County Road Commission and Pentwater Township Board, I am convinced Longbridge Road will reopen in 30 days or less, assuming the area doesn’t receive extraordinary rainfall between now and then,” Trierweiler said.

This story is copyrighted © 2019, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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