Town Board members say they plan to unveil a list later this month that will outline which private roads in Riverhead Town will get minimal highway services and which won’t receive any.
It makes sense to get the list together before the first storm of the season hits, but there’s a glaring hole in their plan: They have no system in place on how to accurately poll the residents who live on these roads in order to figure out who wants the town’s help and who does not. (more…)
The town may be changing its code so it could plow private roads.
But only during supervisor-declared snow emergencies, according to a proposal to list such roads in the town code for emergency purposes. (more…)
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.
“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.
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.
Town Board members want local businesses to participate in an Adopt-a-Road program to clean up litter along town roads.
Osborn Avenue resident Christine Doubrava, who has been picking up litter in her neighborhood for years, told the board at last week’s work session that the type of garbage she’s finding on the streets is changing.
“I’m willing to pick up beer bottles, cigarette packs and so on, but what’s troubling me this year is that it’s transformed, and it’s no longer litter. It’s debris and garbage,” she said.
Ms. Doubrava showed board members some samples of the plastic foam, industrial garbage and packing papers she’s more frequently finding on the roadsides.
“It’s from one end of the road to the other,” she said.
Ms. Doubrava said she’s spoken to Highway Superintendent George Woodson as well as Crown Sanitation, which has a recycling facility on Youngs Avenue, and both were very receptive.
“We clean up an area one week and the next week it’s the same,” Mr. Woodson said at the work session.
Supervisor Sean Walter suggested sending a letter to area businesses urging them to participate in an Adopt-a-Road program that would allow a sign with the company’s name on it.
“Maybe we make the sign a little bit bigger, a little bit nicer, if we can get the businesses to adopt the highways,” Mr. Walter said. “That sign could be worth something, and they’d probably pay people to clean the road.”
Mr. Walter said his office and Mr. Woodson can coordinate to establish the program.
Though the snow keeps on coming this winter, Riverhead’s snow removal budget seems to be weathering the storms so far.
The cooperation and understanding of all residents is essential for the town highway department to achieve its objective of maintaining or restoring the roadways so they are open and safe for travel as promptly and efficiently as possible during winter snowstorms.
Update: Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter declared a state of emergency starting at 9 p.m. tonight, Thursday, as a coastal storm approaching the area is expected to bring high winds and dump up to 10 inches of snow.
Mr. Walter cautioned cars to remain off town roadways and that residents along coastlines, especially the Long Island Sound in Wading River and Baiting Hollow, should prepare for coastal flooding and erosion.
Vehicles parked on public roadways during a state of emergency are subject to towing.
Original story: Though a large snowfall looms Thursday night into Friday, after snowfalls of 21.5 inches in 2010 and over two feet last winter, highway superintendent Gio Woodson said on Thursday he’s more than ready for this next one.
“A storm’s a storm. We do the same thing every time,” he said.
Mr. Woodson said Thursday afternoon that the town roads had been sanded and with most of the snowfall expected after midnight, the calm before the storm has set in.
“Now it’s time to take a break, take a chill pill, rest up and get ready for tonight,” said Mr. Woodson.
While the National Weather Service website warns that anywhere from five to nine inches could come tonight, with another one two two inches tomorrow, NWS meteorologist Joe Pollina said that the East End is likely to fall on the higher end of the range.
“The twin forks, and Riverhead area, will likely be closer to the 10-inch range, with western Suffolk closer to eight inches,” he said. Mr. Pollina added that the bulk of snow should arrive after midnight, with minor accumulation after sunrise.
Mr. Woodson will be fighting this storm with new covers for his salt barns, finally. Constructed in 2011 at a cost of over $700,000, the structures were badly damaged during Hurricane Sandy less than six months later. The town proceeded to sue three of the companies associated with the construction of the barns, and remains in court on the matters. The town’s insurance paid for the new covers — which were fixed about a month ago — and will reimburse its insurance company should litigation prove successful, according to Supervisor Sean Walter.
He added that with last year’s storm under their belt, and plenty of other bigger ones before this blizzard, crews are at the ready.
“Everybody’s ready. It doesn’t look like a terrible 24-inch snowstorm,” he said. “It’s cause it’s the first one of the year, so everybody is a little anxious.”