Debate over private road plowing headed to public hearing

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

The discussion over whether the Riverhead Town highway department should continue to plow private roads will open up beyond the Highway Superintendent and Town Board, heading to a public hearing in the near future.

The Town Board and Highway Superintendent George Woodson agreed at Thursday’s board work session to hold a public hearing on a plan that would allow the highway department to continue snow plowing and cold patching private roads on which the highway department has plowed and patched for at least the past 10 years.

Those services would be the only town highway department services those streets would receive, and in return, the roads would have to remove any “private road” signs and would have to allow the general public to traverse those roads, Mr. Woodson said.

“If they don’t want to abide by that, they’re out,” town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz said.

The proposal is similar to what was done in upstate Cortland.

Mr. Woodson said he spoke to the highway superintendent from that town Thursday morning.

In 2004, the Town Board took 74 private streets into its road system under the “Highways by Use” section of state highway law.

About 50 private roads would be affected by the new proposal, although they are not being taken into the town road system, as was the case in 2004, Mr. Woodson said.

“All they’re getting is paving and cold patching,” he said. “Cold patching” is laying cold asphalt, which comes at a lower cost than hot asphalt, though does not last as long.

Mr. Woodson had recently sent out a letter to residents of private streets informing them that under the state constitution, the town should be using public funds to plow private roads, and that he was going to stop doing so.Gio

Supervisor Sean Walter argued that the town has been plowing private roads for more than a decade, and that under state highway law, the town can continue doing so. He said the roads would continue to be plowed in emergencies.

He said in an interview that he sent the letter after the town was threatened with a lawsuit by some private road residents who claimed the town highway plows damaged their road and should repave them.

Earlier this month, when a resident of a private road showed up at a Town Board work session to bring Mr. Woodson’s letter to their attention, Mr. Walter told her he had advised Mr. Woodson not to send the letter, and he then urged the woman to “protest the highway superintendent.”

The town has received a number of letters from private road residents recently urging the highway department to continue plowing their streets.

Judy Miller, the president of the Oak Hills Association in Calverton, wrote that their residents pay the same amount of taxes as other town residents.

“We have consistently, for 30 or more years, received salting, sanding and plowing services required for the health, welfare and safety of our residents,” she said, adding that she hoped concerns about funding, legality and reactions to possible law suits “should not put the lives of hundreds of Riverhead citizens in danger.”

The town has not set a date for the public hearing.

Also by Tim Gannon: 

• Two more years needed for Riverhead’s sewer work

• Town considers outside partners to market EPCAL land

• Planning Board still waiting on work from Route 58 developer

Caption: Highway Superintendent George ‘Gio’ Woodson, left, at a recent town board work session.