Brooklyn Heights residents should not hold their breath waiting for the serpentine Squibb Bridge to Brooklyn Bridge Park to reopen following its sudden July closure, because the problem meadow leaders claimed was a single faulty piece of wood is actually a far bigger structural flaw, the stewards said.
“I cannot give anybody a timeline as to how long it will take,” said Eric Landau, head of the semi-private Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, which maintains the green space. “Sadly, that one piece that showed visual signs of problems is not the only piece where we have deterioration.”
Park keepers shuttered the zig-zagging crossing from Middagh Street’s Squibb Park to the waterfront lawn in July, alleging a single plank in “poor condition” necessitated its closure, and recruited engineering firm Arup Group — the same company tapped in 2016 to oversee the span’s previous $3-million repair after meadow stewards fired the firm that created the bridge amidst that fix — to survey the damage.
And the engineers, who wrapped their inspection last week, found the lone piece of wood is actually among many that are crumbling due to “higher than expected moisture level,” according to Landau, who assured locals his staffers are as miffed about the span’s second prolonged shuttering as they are.
“We know there are concerns,” he said. “Let me be clear, we are upset about its closure.”
Now, Arup workers must think up design tweaks to again shore up the once notoriously bouncy span before park-goers can set foot on it, a multi-step project that Landau said would likely drag on for an indeterminate amount of time since the firm’s initial assessment of the bridge’s recent damage took longer than planned.
“It took us a lot longer to do the testing than we hoped, and it will take longer for us to design the appropriate solution than you would like it to take,” he said.
The water damage is a particularly bedeviling problem because the wood used to build the $4-million, taxpayer-funded footbridge — black locust — is supposed to withstand heavy moisture, according to Landau.
“Every wood expert we spoke to said black locust is the best there is — you could put it into a vat of water for 100 years and you’d never have deterioration,” he said. “So we were really surprised, as was our wood expert, when they discovered that we had a piece with decay.”
Landau shared the news during an unrelated Sept. 12 meeting about plans for the new public swimming hole coming to Squibb Park, roughly three months after he told locals he couldn’t promise that construction of the pool won’t require closing the crossing.
And as Squibb Bridge’s latest closure hits the two-month mark, its time out of service continues to increase compared to its time in service, with the span being off limits for roughly 34 months, and open to the public for only about 32, since it debuted in May 2013.
The crossing’s previous 32-month closure ended when it reopened with less spring in its step last April, as buyers were shelling out millions to purchase luxury condos inside the then just-finished Pierhouse complex that sits in Brooklyn Bridge Park adjacent to the span, leading some locals to wonder whether the real reason Squibb Bridge recently shuttered is to keep looky-loos from peeking into the swanky homes.
“Maybe the people living in the pricey apartments don’t like people peering at them,” a commenter who identified herself as Teresa wrote on the Brooklyn Heights blog after the span closed in July.
A longtime neighborhood resident said he could understand such privacy concerns, but insisted claims that the bridge shuttered due to condo owners’ complaints are pure speculation.
“If I had a million-dollar condo there and got up in the morning to stretch, I wouldn’t want people looking at me, but buyers bought units knowing the bridge was there,” said Andrew Porter. “People are making assumptions, these are rumors.”
And even though he could not say when, Landau promised locals that the span will reopen as soon as possible, though the cost of getting back in bridgeness won’t be determined until engineers are further along with their repairs, according to a park spokeswoman.
“No matter how long it takes, we are committed to having a bridge that connects from Squibb Park to Brooklyn Bridge Park,” Landau said.