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Bridge work. Photo by John Whipple

Walk This Way

As classes are set to begin next week, some students of Arbor Hill Elementary may have to find an alternate route to school.

The dilapidated footbridge connecting Arbor Hill Elementary to Colonie Street Park [Newsfront, Aug. 15] currently is barricaded. According to city engineer Deirdre Rudolph, the City of Albany hired the professional engineering group Wilbur Smith Associates on Aug. 21 to assess the conditions of the bridge, which neighborhood residents say is the only way students can avoid Manning Boulevard’s busy morning traffic and safely cross the thoroughfare. But the state of the bridge, they say, makes traversing it unsafe.

“The bridge is not safe and parents know that,” said neighborhood resident Gregory Fields. “That’s why children take the chance and go across the road.”

Rudolph said that based on conversations she had with the engineering firm, the bridge will be open when school begins. But as a precaution, Lisa Stratton, communications coordinator for the Albany City School District, said the ACSD has placed a request with the Albany Police Department for more crossing guards.

The ACSD and City of Albany have pointed fingers at each other in the past over which municipality is responsible for footing maintenance bills for this bridge and similar public amenities. Many Arbor Hill residents were angered when the city spent $9 million on the Hudson River Way connecting Pearl Street to the Corning Preserve, while their bridge was falling apart. But by setting money aside to pay for the assessment team, the city has cast the dispute aside for the time being.

“The city just feels that it needs to be done and we’re taking care of it,” said Rudolph. “We’ll look at short-term and long-term needs for the bridge; we’ll figure out funding later.”

Although Fields admits that he is not a structural engineer, he said a great deal of work needs to be done considering the bridge has been in shaky condition for the last seven years.

“I think they should do some major work,” said Fields. “To me, I don’t see how they can do anything but tear it down and build it over. But that’s the opinion of a layman.”


Selective Benefits

While many advocates for gay and lesbian rights are praising a new law passed last week by the New York State Legislature, others are feeling left out in the cold.

The new legislation requires insurance companies to extend spousal benefits to lesbian and gay survivors whose partners died in last year’s terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. It doesn’t, however extend benefits to those couples that experienced loss in other work-related incidents.

“I’m glad the law recognizes that Gene and I were a couple in every way,” said Larry Courtney, whose partner of nearly 14 years, Eugene Clark, died at the World Trade Center. “This is good for some of us, but we have to do more for all of us. People whose partners died in other tragedies on the job are still fighting with insurance companies for the basic benefits that were intended for families in our situation.”

Bill Valentine lost his partner to a work-related tragedy, but has not yet received spousal benefits because the law doesn’t cover people in his situation. Valentine’s partner of 21 years, Joe Lopes, was a flight attendant on American Flight 587, which was en route to the Dominican Republic when it crashed near Kennedy Airport on Nov. 12, 2001, claiming the lives of all on board.

Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc. filed claims for both Courtney and Valentine at the New York state Workers’ Compensation Board. While Courtney was granted spousal benefits, which can amount to $400 a week for the remainder of the surviving spouse’s life, Valentine is still awaiting a decision.

“Eugene Clark and Joe Lopes both died on the job,” said Adam Aronson, the Lambda Legal staff attorney who is handling the case. “They paid the same taxes and insurance premiums as their co-workers, and it’s only fair that their closest family members—their life partners—get support as spouses.”

Joe Tarver, spokesman for Empire State Pride Agenda, said that his organization sees the passing of the law as a big step forward in equality for gay and lesbian couples in New York state. But he hopes that further legislation will follow, which will provide permanent spousal benefits.

“We think this was a great first step,” said Tarver. “We would prefer that the law be made permanent, but given that legislature in New York had never before even mentioned the words ‘domestic partner’ in any context whatsoever in New York state law before 2002, this is very significant.”


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