Editorial: Road plowing debate needs more input

12/05/2014 6:00 AM |
East Street in Jamesport, a private road. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch file)

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

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.

Those who do will get plowing and cold patch service. But in return, they’ll have to give up their “private” and “no trespassing signs” and allow the general public in. Residents who want to keep their roads entirely private will have to foot their own bills for plowing and all road maintenance. To figure out what people want, it appears the Town Board is prepared to take only into account the residents who spoke at Tuesday night’s public hearing in Town Hall, and any letters or emails that are sent to Howell Avenue.

That’s the wrong approach for such a serious and potentially long-lasting determination.

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How about the people who couldn’t make Tuesday’s meeting? What about the people who might not follow town politics so closely? Then there’s those who live in a neighborhood represented by a civic group who might not be civic members. Some people are shut-ins; should they have no say?

The self-appointed representatives of these streets are just that. And it’s impossible to make a true determination of whether they’re speaking on behalf of the majority of their neighbors, or even whether they’re giving their neighbors accurate information in a quest to curry favor on one side or the other of this important decision.

In the weeks before this master list is compiled, the town needs to do its due diligence and send questionnaires to every one of the hundreds of homes that are on private streets to help determine which types of services they’ve received in the past — which, under state law, will help determine if their road is even eligible to be plowed — and if they want services in the future. These residents then need ample time and opportunities to respond via mail or electronic mail, instead of simply allowing more outspoken residents to make these decisions for them.

To do otherwise could simply create strife and resentment among neighbors for years to come.