The fiftieth anniversary and rededication of Rye City Hall not only allowed the community to give thanks for the generous gift by John Motley Morehead in 1964, but also to recognize the public service of Morehead along with other current and former civic leaders.
By Paul Hicks
The fiftieth anniversary and rededication of Rye City Hall not only allowed the community to give thanks for the generous gift by John Motley Morehead in 1964, but also to recognize the public service of Morehead along with other current and former civic leaders. Among the highlights of the program were remarks by former Mayors Steve Otis (1998-2009), John Carey (1974-1981), and Edmund Grainger ((1966-1973).
Each of them recalled events from his time in office, but of particular significance were Ed Grainger’s recollections of the key steps taken in winning the battle to defeat the Rye-Oyster Bay Bridge. Along with the opening of City Hall in late 1964 came the first salvo in the bridge battle when Robert Moses made public his proposal to build a 6.5-mile span across Long Island Sound. Many summaries of the nearly ten-year fight have been written, but none was more compelling than the first-hand account given by Ed Grainger on December 10.
First, he gave credit to the important early work done by his predecessor, Clay Johnson, who was quoted by The New York Times in February,1965 as saying “the project would be a nightmare,” when the bridgehead was targeted at Manursing Island. Later, when the target had shifted to Playland Parkway or Oakland Beach, he told the Times, that the plan reflected Mr. Moses’ “egotistical notion of his exclusive talents.”
Under Grainger’s leadership, Rye forged a formidable alliance with Oyster Bay and other communities on Long Island that were threatened by the bridge. In 1969 they obtained a court ruling that the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, then headed by Moses, did not have the legal authority to build the proposed bridge. However, that decision was reversed on appeal, and it looked like construction on the bridge was about to begin.
By then, Governor Nelson Rockefeller had become a strong proponent of the bridge, and the battle continued to rage between the “Goliaths” in Albany and Manhattan and the “Davids” on the North Shore and in Rye. The opponents were able to get the State Legislature to pass legislation prohibiting work on the project, but those bills were vetoed by Rockefeller, who, some say, was seeking not only the economic benefits for Long Island but also votes in an upcoming election.
By 1972, the environmental movement was becoming an important factor in shaping the opposition’s strategy. Their original concerns emphasized the adverse effect on residential neighborhoods and shorefront clubs, but the arguments effectively shifted to the damage to marine life and fishing in the Sound.
Connecticut’s powerful Senator, Abraham Ribicoff, an ardent environmentalist, kept any federal highway money from helping to finance the project. Also, the Town of Oyster Bay gave over 3,000 acres of wetlands and shorefront to the federal government as a national wildlife refuge, which caused the Department of the Interior to oppose the bridgehead location in Oyster Bay.
As a Long Island newspaper quipped, the route was Moses’s Waterloo because “he was going through all the freshwater wetlands in the Town of Oyster Bay. Second of all, he was going through Gatsby country—that’s where the estates are and where the multi-millionaires are, and they were not too happy with the thought of an expressway going through their community.” One of those multi-millionaires was Nelson Rockefeller’s sister, Abby, who was a stalwart supporter of the opposition.
Rockefeller finally abandoned the project in June 1973, stating that, “The citizens have come to adopt new values in relation to our environment and to forgo certain economic advantages to achieve those benefits.”
There were many in Rye and elsewhere who labored long and hard to defeat the bridge, but none more than Ed Grainger, who was heavily involved in both the litigation and legislative strategies.
For those who were not able to attend the fine celebration at City Hall, you will be able to see the video of this memorable occasion on RyeTV.