By Richard Kerns
Tribune Staff Writer
KEYSER – Mineral County government has no role in replacing or repairing the Sunnydale Drive bridge that partially gave way beneath a fire truck last weekend, with residents of the subdivision largely on their own to cover the expense.
Among the options reportedly under consideration is a claim against the fire department's insurance carrier for the cost of repair.
County Coordinator Mike Bland said Wednesday that the Sunnydale subdivision predates county regulations adopted in the early 1990s which require such developments to feature a homeowners association that would cover the expense of regular road maintenance and plowing, as well as repairs to an access bridge.
Bland said several residents of the area have contacted him, and while county officials are ready to work with the residents to explore funding options, he said the county itself is not in a position to pay for the bridge repair.
"We'll try to assist them in any way we can, but we don't have a responsibility in replacing the bridge or anything like that," Bland said.
Located off of state-maintained Stony Run Road, Sunnydale Drive is a public right of way that is not publicly maintained, according to Bland. More than two dozen homes are located in the subdivision, as well as a townhouse complex that is partially occupied and still under construction.
Bland said neighborhoods of such size normally have a homeowners association, but he is unaware of any such organization for Sunnydale. "Typically when you have that many houses involved you have a homeowners association that accepts responsibility," he said.
Early Saturday morning, the small bridge that provides the only direct access to the neighborhood partially gave way when a 75-foot ladder truck from the Keyser Volunteer Fire Department attempted to cross the span to reach a house fire in the subdivision. Wooden bridge decking that extends about 2 feet beyond steel beams under the single-lane bridge gave way beneath the 6.5 ton vehicle, which partially fell into Stony Run.
Access to the fire was gained by using a private bridge just downstream, but fire trucks had to cross two residential lots to get back to Sunnydale Drive.
Fire Department officials are still awaiting an inspection-visit from the department's insurance carrier to determine the extent of the damage to the truck, Fire Chief Chris Paitsel said Wednesday. There is some concern that the vehicle's frame may have been bent in the bridge collapse.
The Sunnydale development predates county regulations now in place under the Comprehensive Plan that require a developer to ensure that road and other maintenance issues are provided for before new homes can be occupied. Those regulations essentially require that a homeowners association be established, which collects annual fees from residents to pay for plowing and other expenses. The regulations also outline minimum standards for roads and utilities.
Page 2 of 2 - "It's simply saying if you create a residential subdivision, you have to follow minimum standards for roads, water and sewer," Bland said.
Those rules also outline bridge specifications. According to a neighbor, the steel supports for the Sunnydale span came from an old railroad car.
Asked if the bridge would meet current standards, Bland said, "more than likely" no.
After Saturday's fire, which law enforcement officials say was intentionally set, with charges filed against the homeowner, yellow tape was strung across the Sunnydale Bridge. However, residents soon removed the tape and resumed using the span, although very carefully, as the accident significantly reduced its width.
The homeowners are now wondering what comes next.
One option that Bland said residents are considering is a claim against the fire department's insurance carrier, essentially arguing that the fire department damaged the bridge and it should be liable for the repair.
Paitsel said Wednesday that he has not heard anything about such a claim, but noted that the bridge does not have a posted weight limit, and that the fire truck did not strike the structure through an improper approach. "We didn't run into their bridge, their bridge gave way," he said.
Paitsel added that the fire department could argue the flip side of the case for purposes of insurance claims: That the residents should be responsible for the cost of repairing the fire truck because their bridge was inadequate.
While the regulations now in place should prevent such problems in new developments, numerous subdivisions in Mineral County that predate the Comprehensive Plan are accessed by bridges of uncertain construction. "I wouldn't even hazard a guess" as to how many neighborhoods are accessed by small bridges, Bland said.