02/15/13 2:00am
02/15/2013 2:00 AM
George Woodson of Riverhead

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Highway Superintendent George Woodson uses heavy equipment to clear Marcy Avenue at 4:30 Saturday.

Despite the unique challenges every big storm poses, Riverhead Town Highway Superintendent George “Gio” Woodson has pretty much seen it all. No career politician, Mr. Woodson is a career highway worker with over two decades of experience as a town employee.

His expertise and work ethic show during every major weather event, when he rolls up his sleeves and takes to the roads himself.

He leads by example, which motivates workers and, in the end, means safer roads for residents. Of course, we would be remiss if we did not tip our hats to all the highway workers, too. The department has been operating at historically low staffing levels in recent years, yet it continues to impress taxpayers with its performance every time.

As Mr. Woodson notes in our coverage of the road-clearing efforts, there are no alternating teams for Riverhead Town highway workers, as is the case with the state. They’re all out there, all the time, save for two or three hours’ sleep here and there overnight or during white-out conditions.

In contrast, the performance of the state Department of Transportation (though not its workers themselves) was disappointing at best. The state seems to have no ability to turn up the volume and beef up snow removal staffing when it comes to the largest storms.

On Friday and Saturday, officials said, the DOT had three trucks assigned to cover Route 25 from Riverhead all the way to Orient, and another two trucks assigned to Route 24 in Southampton Town. That might be enough for a regular snowfall, but not a historic blizzard.

The lack of state resources was evident on our state roads. Route 24 was a deathtrap into Saturday night. And Routes 25 and 25A in Calverton and Wading River remained largely impassable for more than 48 hours.

All the while, other main roads in Riverhead Town were mostly clear, save for some snow blowing from farm fields.

Town and county officials have been mostly polite in their public comments about the state DOT, while rightfully criticizing residents for leaving cars on roads and being out when they shouldn’t have been. But the time for delicacy with the DOT is over.

Highway superintendents from across the county should demand changes in the way state roads are cleared.

Otherwise, it’s just a matter of time before something tragic happens.

03/24/11 7:33pm
03/24/2011 7:33 PM

Leaf pickup, paper bags only

Now that spring is officially here, you may be wondering if the town is going to pick up leaves in the spring.

The answer is that the highway department will not pick up leaves at the curbside this spring, as it did in the fall, according to Highway Superintendent George Woodson.

He said the department hasn’t done curbside pickup in the spring in many years.

However, the town’s garbage carting company will pick up bagged leaves on Thursdays, as long as they are in a biodegradable paper bag, according to deputy supervisor Jill Lewis. Plastic bags will no longer be accepted, she said.

The town distributed several hundred paper bags to residents last fall and the bags also are available at some stores. Residents also can dump loose leaves at the town’s yard waste facility on Youngs Avenue.

tgannon@timesreview.com

01/28/11 1:16pm
01/28/2011 1:16 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Town highway worker John Appicello removes snow from Pulaski Street last week to make room for more.

Riverhead Highway Superintendent George “Gio” Woodson said the town has enough money left in its annual snow removal budget to cover two more snow storms until Dec. 31.

But forecasters are already predicting more snowfall Tuesday.

If the town spends more than the amount allotted for snow removal, Riverhead could be sending an additional bill to residents.

Last year, neighboring Brookhaven Town issued a $2.3 million bill to its residents to cover snow removal, which cost the average homeowner about $15, according to Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko .

Riverhead, which is much smaller than Brookhaven, has about $70,000 left for overtime costs and $100,000 for salt and materials for 2011, Mr. Woodson said.

“If you go over [budget], then everything comes back to the taxpayer,” he said. “Our budget isn’t busted yet.”

The town has spent about $70,000 in overtime in January alone and about $75,000 for materials including salt, according to Mr. Woodson’s assistant, Susan Beal.

January 2011 is now the snowiest January in Long Island history, according to the National Weather Service in Upton. A reported 34.2 inches has fallen at Islip’s Long Island MacArthur Airport this month. The previous record was 21.5 inches set in 2005.

But the budget could be just one of our worries. Mr. Woodson said flooding might persist once the mountains of plowed snow begin to melt. Aside from hindering motorists’ views, the snow piles are also making it difficult for the town’s 33 highway workers to plow the town’s 444 miles of road lanes.

“The roads may get a little narrower if we get [an additional] 18 inches,” he said.

vchinese@timesreview.com

Read more in the Feb. 3 issue of the News-Review.