11/27/14 4:00pm
11/27/2014 4:00 PM
Manuel Canel (left) of Canel Landscaping of Riverhead cleans up leaves in a client's yard in Aquebogue earlier this month with his crew, Jose Canel (center) and Victor Garcia (right). (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Manuel Canel (left) of Canel Landscaping of Riverhead cleans up leaves in a client’s yard in Aquebogue earlier this month with his crew, Jose Canel (center) and Victor Garcia (right). (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Riverhead highway workers will begin picking up loose leaves in front of homes on Monday, Dec. 1, for residents living in the eastern portion of the town, stretching from Laurel Lane on the east to Northville Turnpike, said Highway Superintendent George Woodson.

The department plans to spend three weeks picking up loose leaves, starting east and heading west.

Pickups in the center portion of town, from Northville Turnpike to Hulse Landing Road, will start Monday, Dec.8, followed by the western part of town, from Hulse Landing Road to the Brookhaven line, on Monday, Dec. 15.

Unfortunately, the free biodegradable paper bags the highway department was giving out are all gone, Mr. Woodson said. (more…)

10/02/14 5:12pm
10/02/2014 5:12 PM
  (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

East Street in Jamesport, a private road. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

To plow or not to plow?

That was the question this morning, as Supervisor Sean Walter and Highway Superintendent George Woodson went toe-to-toe in an argument over whether or not the town highway department should be plowing private roads.

June Bassemir, who lives in the private community of Waterview Terrace in Jamesport, came to Town Hall to complain at the beginning of Thursday’s work session to bring the issue to the Town Board’s attention. She said she had heard about Mr. Woodson’s intentions to stop plowing private roads a few months ago from a highway department employee.

Before the meeting had even started, Mr. Walter jumped right in.

“It’s unacceptable for him to be doing this, and the residents should stand up and protest against the highway superintendent,” he told Ms. Bassemir. He said a Wading River resident told him that the policy of not plowing private roads cost her a real estate sale, because Fannie Mae has a provision that it will not loan money for property that doesn’t have a road maintenance agreement.

The supervisor also said that Mr. Woodson was sending out a letter regarding the new policy.

“Pursuant to New York State Law,” the letter from Mr. Woodson states, “the town, inclusive of the highway department, may not use town personnel and equipment to maintain or repair private roadways, remove trees and brush, plow snow from private roads etc., except in the event of an emergency such as a serious illness or fire.”

“I asked him not to send it out,” Mr. Walter told Ms. Bassemir, saying it shows “total disrespect.”

“I’ll say it on the record,” he said. “You should be picketing the highway superintendent.”

Mr. Woodson was not in the room at the time but apparently caught wind of the supervisor’s statements and showed up later in the meeting.

Click here for our live coverage from Thursday’s meeting.

“Are you actually telling people to protest the highway department?” Mr. Woodson asked. ”[Plowing private roads] is against the law.”

In an interview later on Thursday, Mr. Woodson said that he had been approached by residents living on some private roads in town — he did not want to specify which ones — who threatened to sue the town if it didn’t pave the private roads they said were damaged by town plows.private road fight[1]

The highway department never plowed private roads before his predecessor, Mark Kwasna, unless there was more than six inches of snow, Mr. Woodson said.

In 2004, the Town Board accepted 75 private roads into the town road system following a public hearing. Mr. Kwasna, who was highway superintendent, said at the time that many of those roads had been maintained by the town for 20 to 30 years.

“If we’ve been maintaining them, we’re basically taking on the liability anyway,” Mr. Kwasna said in 2004.

Mr. Woodson said Thursday that Riverhead is the only town in the county that plows private roads regularly.

Locally, Southold does not plow private roads, and Southampton does, but only when the supervisor declares a town wide emergency, officials from those towns told The News-Review.

Mr. Walter said he worked with Mr. Kwasna on legislation to allow some private roads in the town to be plowed. He feels the town could face a lawsuit if it stops plowing a road it has plowed for more than 10 years, even if it is a private road.

“If we’ve been plowing the roads for 10 years and now we’re going to stop, what do you say to those residents?” Mr. Walter said. “It’s basic constituent service.”

Mr. Woodson said he has met with civic associations and homeowners groups from the private roads to explain his position.

Rich Stephenson, the president of the Waterview Terrace Civic Association, which has private roads, says the town has been plowing those streets for 30 years. He said he has met with Mr. Woodson and town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz on the issue.

He said losing that service would be a large financial burden on residents there, many of whom are senior citizens, if they had to hire a private contractor or buy their own plow — and it could be worse for streets that do not have a civic association.

But most importantly, he said, “We need to know immediately what the town is going to do. There’s no time to sit on the fence.”

According to Mr. Kozakiewicz, the state constitution prevents towns from using tax money on private streets. However, another section of state law allows a road that has been maintained for 10 years or more to be accepted into the road system of that municipality.

Officials say one upstate town has divided its roads into three different categories, each of which is permitted a certain degree of town services. Riverhead officials say they may consider something like that.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Mr. Walter worked with Mr. Kwasna on legislation that would allow some private roads to be paved. He worked to write legislation that would permit private roads to be plowed.

02/12/14 12:33pm
02/12/2014 12:33 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | County Legislator Kara Hahn introduced a bill aimed at examining the benefits of using beet-based brines, like the one above manufactured by East End Organics.

With snowfall totals soaring this winter season — and another storm on the way — area highway crews have been coating the roads with mixtures of salt and sand, but those mixtures are only so effective once temperatures dip below 20 degrees, according to town highway superintendents.  (more…)

01/03/14 1:00pm
01/03/2014 1:00 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Riverhead Town Building and Grounds manager Guy Cawley brings out the heavy equipment in Polish Town.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Riverhead Town Building and Grounds manager Guy Cawley brings out the heavy equipment in Polish Town.

Update: Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter announced Friday that with the plummeting temperatures, any residents who find themselves without heat can call the town at (631) 727-3200, ext. 312, and accommodations will be made for them in Riverhead Town Hall.

With snow tapering off late this morning, the numbers are in: according to the National Weather Service, Riverhead got pretty much exactly what forecasters had predicted, as the station reports 9.8 inches of snow fell in the hamlet.

The blizzard warning which is now expired had predicted anywhere from 8 to 10 inches falling across Suffolk County Thursday night into Friday, and an NWS meteorologist had said that the twin forks would be on the higher end of the scale, with western Suffolk on the lighter side.

In Baiting Hollow, the NWS reported that 8.5 inches fell in the area, while Orient reported the same total. Bay Shore got the most snow on Long Island with 12.5 inches.

Highway Superintendent Gio Woodson said around noon that about three-quarters of the plowing around town was done; he’s hoping to have all the streets done by 3 p.m., he said.

“We’re hoping the wind dies down so we can send everyone home,” he said.

Riverhead Town Hall opened up late today, and Supervisor Sean Walter at one point called a state of emergency last night in order to keep cars off the roads. Governor Andrew Cuomo even ordered the Long Island Expressway closed in light of the snowfall.

But with the snowfall now over, the next challenge Mr. Woodson faces is putting salt down before the roads turn to ice tonight. He urged driving slow; because temperatures are so low, he said it’s too cold for salt to melt any snow on the roads.

“Drive slow. Don’t rush. That’s the biggest thing,” he said. “And if you don’t have to be out there, don’t go.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone expressed concern for a “false sense of security” drivers may have now that the snowfall is over with and roads begin to clear up.

“My big concern is moving forward throughout the day, as people think it’s OK to drive, ice will be on the roads because of the extremely cold conditions,” he said. “People don’t realize, salt doesn’t work at a certain temperature. It’s going to stay there until it warms up.”

Joey Picca, meteorologist with the NWS, said that while a typical low temperature on Long Island would be in the mid-20s this time of year, overnight lows expected tonight could drop to the zero to 5-degree range. In order for salt to do its job on the roads, said Mr. Woodson, temperatures around 30 degrees would be ideal — though with the sun out, and more cars on the road, conditions are becoming more favorable.

11/02/13 11:59am
11/02/2013 11:59 AM
Highway superintendent George 'Gio' Woodson

Highway superintendent George ‘Gio’ Woodson

While residents in parts of neighboring Brookhaven Town remained buried in snow for days after February’s monster blizzard, most all of Riverhead was navigable very soon after the storm (save for some stretches of state roads in Wading River not within the town’s jurisdiction). And this came just a few short months after the highway department and its crews worked to remove fallen trees and pump flooded roadways during and after Hurricane Sandy.

George (Gio) Woodson’s six years in office have seen several extreme weather events and he and his department have performed admirably during and after each one — with Mr. Woodson often rolling up his sleeves and helping out by hopping aboard a plow or other department vehicle when needed.

Profiles: Meet the candidates for highway superintendent

What more can one ask from a highway department head? Well, there are matters of budgeting, equipment maintenance and keeping workers happy and safe. Mr. Woodson has excelled in these areas, too, planning well for salt, sand and overtime and doing more with fewer workers than in years past — and with little employee turnover.

Riverhead Town residents are lucky to have Mr. Woodson in office. But in this race, there’s an embarrassment of riches.

Some less fortunate western Suffolk towns have political hacks in office who are more interested in patronage jobs that road maintenance. But Riverhead residents have two top-notch candidates to choose from. Unfortunately, the Riverhead Republican Committee let candidate Michael Panchak down by not filing the proper paperwork in time to get him on the Republican line. A qualified candidate with years of experience running his own asphalt company and dealing with town and county governments as a private contractor, Mr. Panchak would bring knowledge and experience from the private side of road work to the department. Yet he’ll appear only on the Conservative line — and it’s highly doubtful he’ll upset Mr. Woodson, who’s not only popular, but has Democratic, Independence and Working Families support. While Mr. Woodson has earned another four years in office, it’s good that there are qualified people out there eyeing his job. That will keep Mr. Woodson from ever feeling entitled or getting complacent.