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Woodson: ‘I’m not spending taxpayer money on private roads’

09/13/2017 5:55 AM |

Riverhead Highway Superintendent George “Gio” Woodson says he will not provide paving and highway services — other than snow plowing — to roads in the Oak Hills section of Baiting Hollow, despite a Town Board resolution passed last Wednesday to incorporate 11 streets into the town road system.

“I’m not spending taxpayer money on private roads,” he told the Town Board last Wednesday in response to the resolution.

Mr. Woodson said afterward that, if necessary, he may even go to court to overturn that resolution.

He said he will continue to provide snow plowing in Oak Hills, but not other highway services involving paving or drainage.

The Town Board passed the resolution by a vote of 3-2, with members Jodi Giglio and John Dunleavy opposed.

The board agreed in 2015 to plow snow and cold patch potholes on more than 50 private roads townwide, including those in Oak Hills, using a modified version of state’s “highway by use” law, under Section 189 of the state highway law.

That law says that any road that has received government services such as plowing for at least 10 years continuously can be deemed a “highway by use,” a designation that allows the town to continue providing the services, but which opens the road to the public as well.

The state law allows those roads to receive all highway services, including paving, drainage work, leaf pickup, road widening and other services.

But the modified version of the law that adopted by the Town Board in 2015 pertains only to plowing snow and filling potholes.

Last fall, the Oak Hills Association filed a lawsuit against the town, seeking to have a state Supreme Court judge require it to provide all highway services to the neighborhood, which has 85 homes and 11 roads. That lawsuit, which named both the Town Board and Mr. Woodson is defendants, is still pending and board members said settlement discussions have taken place.

The lawsuit states that “the defendants [the town] have erroneously interpreted and misapplied NYS Highway Law 189 (Highways by Use) to mean that they are only required to provide snow removal and no other roadway maintenance and services, such as drain vacuuming, maintaining lighting and water lines, cleaning of tree, leaf, branch and storm debris, roadway patching, etc,” the lawsuit states.

The resolution was not on the published agenda and Mr. Woodson said he was never consulted about it.

Ms. Giglio said the resolution was discussed in executive session, which the public cannot attend, at the board’s Aug. 31 work session.

“The executive session was to discuss a settlement of the lawsuit,” she said. She said the resolution should have been discussed in public.

“Where is the money coming from?” Mr. Woodson asked.

Supervisor Sean Walter said that Mr. Woodson consistently underspends his budget and the money could come from there.

When Mr. Woodson asked if there would be a public hearing on adopting the Oak Hills roads, Mr. Walter said the hearing has already been held.

“In the end, I will have the final say, not you,” Mr. Woodson said.

Both Mr. Dunleavy and Ms. Giglio said the state and town versions of the “highway by use” law are different, and allowing Oak Hills to be dealt with under the state’s version will set precedent and other communities will want the same thing.

“You’re going to open up a bag of worms,” Mr. Dunleavy said.

Ms. Giglio said Oak Hills is a community association that collects dues to pay for road maintenance. She said the private road signs were only taken down about a year ago. She said the resolution is just an attempt to get votes.

Councilmen Tim Hubbard and Jim Wooten, both of whom voted in favor of the resolution, said the roads in Oak Hills have been maintained by the town for as long as they can remember.

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