Democrat Photo by Dan Hust
THE ASPHALT-TOPPED Fox Mountain Road in White Sulphur Springs has caused friction between residents and the Town of Liberty Highway Department
Flood Damaged Road Is Frustration For All
By Dan Hust
LIBERTY December 15, 2006 Meg Edwards is tired of the dust. She’s tired of the washouts, tired of the overflowing ditches that carry water onto her front yard. And she’s tired of the wait to repave Fox Mountain Road in White Sulphur Springs.
Town of Liberty Highway Superintendent Timothy Pellam is, too, but he’s found himself at loggerheads with Edwards and several other residents of late.
The small trailer Edwards shares with her husband and county DPW worker Steve sits high atop the mountain, with a commanding view of upwards of 30 miles, even into Pennsylvania.
But Edwards is focused on an issue much closer to home and closer to the ground, too.
It’s the size of a pebble, in fact, because that’s exactly what it is.
Crushed bluestone from a local quarry is the source of Edwards’ frustrations these days, and Pellam isn’t far behind in being equally frustrated.
It was laid down on Fox Mountain Road in July following the June 28 flood that washed out the road in four spots. It made the road passable while awaiting repaving and it’s still there, as Edwards is reminded every time a car passes.
“The dust is our big thing,” she remarked recently after she and Mineral Springs Road neighbor Don Herron complained about it at a town board meeting.
“For some reason, the stone we put down [was dusty],” explained Pellam a few days later. “We didn’t want to create this situation.”
Pellam said a Bridgeville quarry that most of the county’s highway departments rely on mined the stone, and he used it on other roads without incident.
But he admitted this particular batch did seem excessively dusty, a sentiment echoed by Supervisor Frank DeMayo.
“I was a little concerned about the quality of stone,” DeMayo acknowledged, adding that the pebbles apparently pulverized more easily than the usual stone. “When you hear that, obviously as supervisor you get concerned.”
But, he added, “I think the highway guys did a Herculean job.”
And not just on Fox Mountain Road, which sustained nearly $172,000 in damages. The whole town got hit for about $1 million in road repairs, thanks to the flooding, said Pellam.
“How does a small town prepare financially for that?” asked Pellam while flipping through a three-ring binder full of flood photos from 2006 and 2005.
And only now is FEMA cutting checks to the township, which so far has had to rely on a $310,000 road improvements budget to cover repairs. As of November 30, Liberty got $52,000 from FEMA, the first of many anticipated reimbursements.
So that means regular maintenance has been delayed, and repaving projects like those on Fox Mountain are behind as well.
“We’re still working on flood damage from previous years,” Pellam remarked, saying his first priority was to make all the town’s roads at least passable.
Edwards and Herron say that’s all he’s done, going so far as to intimate Pellam has a grudge against them for complaining so much.
“The road’s been torn up all summer long,” said Herron, a 55-year resident and retired heavy construction worker who supervised the building of Baltimore’s subway and the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Blue Mountain Tunnel.
“They don’t even clean the ditches,” added Edwards, who is employed in the county treasurer’s office and has lived on her 2.11 acres for 20 years. “There’s no maintenance done.”
That has led to water running down on her property, Edwards said, and the loss of valued plants and soil. A fine coating of dust remains on and in her car every day, no matter how many times she cleans it.
“I can’t even hang out my wash,” she said.
She and Herron said they’re worried about the dust’s health effects (Herron’s wife relies on bottled oxygen), but both admitted they haven’t checked on those concerns with a physician.
Pellam said he’s used a water truck to keep the dust down and even laid another layer of oil and stone to bind the dust to the street, but he’s not going to clean Fox Mountain’s ditches more than once every spring.
“Meg has to worry about the two miles up to her house,” he stated matter-of-factly. “I have to worry about [the township’s] 126 miles… We can’t go up there every week and clean the ditch.”
Edwards and Herron interpret that as the uncaring attitude of a bully one whom Edwards admits she helped elect.
“Pellam told me he would never do another thing after I complained,” alleged Herron, who wants a water truck visiting Mineral Springs Road every other day.
“Clarence Barber did maintenance on the road,” recalled Edwards of one of Pellam’s predecessors. “If there was an emergency, Clarence took care of it.
“We wouldn’t even be picking with the town if they did do something about the dust,” she added, saying she’s been rudely rebuffed by town officials as an ignorant nuisance.
Edwards and Herron are also upset with DeMayo, who had indicated to them that the town had declared a state of emergency after the June floods when in fact it had not.
Whether or not the town did declare such doesn’t matter, said DeMayo and Sullivan County Public Safety Commissioner Richard Martinkovic. The county declared an emergency, which opened up FEMA and state emergency funds to every township and village in the county.
“I’m not out to persecute the town,” Edwards claimed. “I’d just like to see a little more respect, cooperation and honesty.”
For his part, DeMayo said that’s all he’s been giving residents. And he’s working with the Village of Liberty on gaining a state grant that would pay for a $300,000-plus reclaimer, which recycles used asphalt and can save both municipalities thousands on blacktop (which costs around $45 a ton, said Pellam).
DeMayo’s also partnering with Pellam to categorize all of Liberty’s town roads and determine their repair needs and related costs.
“We work well together,” he remarked.
Pellam, himself a White Sulphur Springs resident and 21-year Liberty highway worker, said there’s nothing personal about any of this it’s just how much he can honestly do with an 18-man department strained to its limits after a series of devastating floods.
“The highway department didn’t create these hazardous conditions,” he said, speaking of the flooding damage earlier in the year. “Yet in the meantime, we have to make everything as safe and as passable with the money we have.”
However, he did mention that most residents seem satisfied with the department’s response to damage and maintenance, saying that the complaints he’s received in the past few months have been mostly limited to ongoing flood damage repair on Fox Mountain, Willi Hill and Lenape Lake roads.
Some of those people have come to his Ferndale-Loomis Road office and reviewed the reams of paperwork proving Pellam’s points about funding, manpower and the extent of damages.
Edwards has not been among them, he said, even though she was invited.
Regardless, Pellam promised that, barring any further catastrophes, Fox Mountain Road will be repaved come this spring.
“It just takes time,” the six-year highway superintendent remarked. “Give us that time.”
Six Months Later . . . Still Dealing With Flooding Issues
By Dan Hust
SULLIVAN COUNTY Highway superintendents around Sullivan County feel Town of Liberty counterpart Timothy Pellam’s pain but some are finished with their flood repairs, while others are still struggling.
Over the past week, the Democrat contacted the highway departments that dealt with devastating flooding from this past June’s storm, asking the status of their work stemming from the flood damages.
Officials from the towns of Callicoon, Fremont and Tusten and the Village of Liberty were not available for comment at press time.
Here’s what the rest had to say:
Town of Bethel
“We have enough work for 20 people,” remarked Bethel Highway Superintendent Bernie Cohen, who oversees a 14-man department. “It’s just a little tough.”
Still, he said, they’ve made progress, fixing all but the most serious areas of damage. A culvert on Hurd and Parks Road and the washed-out bridge where Gabriel Road intersects Jaketown remain. While the Gabriel Road issue is tied up with FEMA, Cohen expects the Hurd and Parks Road culvert to be addressed shortly.
He credited the county’s Department of Public Works with helping the town catch up on flood repairs dating back to 2004, but every day, the first-term superintendent is dealing with nearly 160 miles of roadway throughout the large township, all on a limited budget that’s still awaiting reimbursement from FEMA.
“You have to have a little patience,” Cohen asked of the public, which has been vocal about the road conditions. “Sooner or later, I’ll get to them.”
Town of Cochecton
H’wy Supt. Brian DuBois said Cochecton is “pretty much caught up” on repairs.
FEMA has paid about $23,000 so far to the township for the damage it sustained in the summer, which DuBois said was far less devastating than other townships.
“We were actually very fortunate,” he remarked.
Still, he’s hoping FEMA will approve the mitigation plans he has for the town, including upgrading drainage pipes.
“As far as financial help, let me tell you, it’s a blessing,” he said of FEMA’s involvement. “Any help you can get is well-taken.”
Town of Delaware
Delaware’s chief of roads, Bill Eschenberg, is proud make that relieved to say, “Delaware is all caught up with storm-related damages.
“We’re all paid up from FEMA,” he added.
In fact, thanks to past experience and preparation, Delaware’s highway crew had all flood damage repaired by July 4, less than a week after the devastating storm.
“We’re in good shape,” Eschenberg said.
Town of Fallsburg
Fallsburg Commissioner of Public Works Howard Conklin said his crew’s dedication to drainage saved the day for the township.
“We do more pipe than the county does,” he said of Fallsburg’s efforts to upgrade and replace around 15 miles of culverts every year for the past decade.
Old corrugated metal pipes have been replaced by smooth plastic culverts, which despite their same size, can handle larger flows.
“I feel that really had a lot to do with it,” said Conklin, referencing the comparatively small amount of flood damage the town suffered this year.
He estimated FEMA will cover about 75 percent of the $100,000 in repair costs, but even while Fallsburg awaits its money, all but one of the repairs is already complete a little bridge culvert on Hasbrouck Road, said Conklin.
Town of Forestburgh
Forestburgh Highway Superintendent Dan Hogue Jr. said the township was lucky to be spared in this year’s round of record-breaking flooding.
Upgrades to drainage have also helped, he added but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to do.
FEMA just approved around $120,000 in repairs to Burns Road, which was washed out in April of 2005 and remains closed.
“It’s a low-volume road,” Hogue explained. “But we don’t like to abandon too many roads.”
When road repair season resumes after winter, Hogue said they plan to have it reopened, but in the meantime, he does admit he’s happy he didn’t have to complete FEMA’s infamous amount of paperwork for more than one road.
“I think I’m happier we didn’t have to fill out FEMA documents than the fact we didn’t have any damage,” he said.
That extra time and equipment also enabled him to send machinery to other townships harder hit by the floods, including badly damaged Rockland.
Town of Highland
Norman Sutherland, who’s in charge of Highland’s network of roadways, said all’s well on the flood damage front.
“We’re in good shape,” he explained. “We’re basically done.”
Sutherland said the township, which sits next to the Delaware River, sustained about $24,000 in damages this year, but FEMA paid for more than replacing rip-rap and washed-out pipes.
“We’ve changed almost all the big pipes in town,” he said, thanks to FEMA monies. “You just have to play the game and do the paperwork.”
Town of Liberty
Timothy Pellam is wrestling with about $1 million in damages and all the Liberty highway superintendent asks from residents is patience.
His priority for flood-related repairs is Lenape Lake, Willi Hill and Fox Mountain roads, and come this spring, he hopes to repave most of them thanks to an anticipated near-100 percent reimbursement from FEMA.
(For more on Liberty’s situation, see above article.)
Town of Lumberland
“We got lucky this time,” remarked Town of Lumberland Highway Supt. Charles Hallock Jr. “We suffered no damage.”
Route 97 was again swamped by the Delaware River, but as Hallock pointed out, “that’s the state [route].”
Town of Mamakating
Mamakating Highway super Richard Johnson Jr. thankfully doesn’t have to worry about flood damages this time around.
Unlike in 2004 and 2005, when Westbrookville was particularly hard hit, 2006 was kind to Mamakating, including the villages of Wurtsboro and Bloomingburg.
“We were spared,” said Johnson. “And we’re all caught up [with ‘04 and ‘05 repairs].”
Town of Neversink
Gary VanValkenburg has a few more mountains to climb than most Sullivan County highway superintendents, but thanks to FEMA, Neversink taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot too much of the flood-related bill.
That is, if FEMA comes through on the more than $100,000 in aid it’s promised the township. That money will help protect Sugarloaf Road from slope failure, said VanValkenburg.
The town did have to pick up some of the $80,000 it cost to replace a box culvert on Beaver Dam Road, he added.
Town of Rockland
Rockland’s highway superintendent, Ted Hartling, might have had the toughest job of all, dealing with more than $2 million in damages from June’s flooding alone.
But you’ll hardly find a more optimistic guy.
“We’ve basically gotten most of the work done,” he said, and FEMA’s picked up three-quarters of a million dollars in promised aid.
The rest is still under consideration by the federal government, including about 15 roads that need everything from embankment replacement/stabilization to repaving jobs.
FEMA’s also looking at mitigation projects like culvert replacements.
“They’ve been pretty fair to us,” said Hartling, also crediting the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Conservation for their aid in permits. The City of New York even chipped in, offering soil and stone from stockpiles left over when area reservoirs and tunnels were built 50 years ago.
FEMA is currently determining whether or not to fund a $2 million road replacement project for about a half-mile of Elm Hollow Road that remains washed out and closed, said Hartling.
Two engineers have looked at the characteristics of the road and the steep, narrow valley with which it shares Elm Hollow Brook, “and they don’t believe it’s very stable,” Hartling related.
All the homes along the road remain accessible through detours, so Hartling is not sure if FEMA will consider Elm Hollow’s reopening a necessary expense.
Town of Thompson
“We had very little damage this time,” said Thompson Highway Superintendent Richard Benjamin Jr.
And as for the two culvert pipes his crew had to replace on Dingle Daisy and Varnell roads, “FEMA agreed to pay for it.”
Benjamin said the township is also doing flood mitigation work on Adams Road next year, thanks to FEMA funds.
“We’ve done well by them,” Benjamin commented, saying that FEMA funding has topped $50,000 this year.
Sullivan County Commissioner of Public Works Robert Meyer is pleased with the county’s progress on its network of roads.
“For the most part, flood damage has been pretty much restored,” he remarked.
About a dozen embankment failures half minor, half major are being worked on, Meyer said, and two washed-out bridges remain to be replaced.
One on Viaduct Road in Hortonville is still gone, while the other on Taylor Road in Jeffersonville has a temporary replacement. Both are part of FEMA-funded projects, but Meyer could not say exactly when either would be permanently replaced, as the design stage takes some time.
In the meantime, the county has been assisting various townships like Fremont and Rockland with flood repairs.
“We’ve been sharing materials as we can,” Meyer related. “Especially in emergency situations, we’re all in the same boat.”
He also gave high marks to FEMA and county DPW employees.
“FEMA has been very good, very helpful,” he said, adding that FEMA and the state are splitting the $3 million repair cost. “There’s no county share in this event.
“Our crews responded splendidly,” he said of his staff during a very stressful time. “Everybody pitched in and did their part.”
Village of Jeffersonville
“Our work is done. We’re waiting for money [from FEMA],” said Village of Jeffersonville Clerk Louise Gorr.
Of $86,151 in flood-related damages, Gorr said FEMA’s reimbursed $37,653, leaving $48,498 still owed.
“We’re expecting it in the next month or two,” she explained.
Gorr added that the village is still due around $60,000 for a September 2005 flood-related project to repair a road washout on “The Island” a portion of Jeff separated from the main village by the Callicoon Creek.
(The villages of Bloomingburg, Monticello, Woodridge and Wurtsboro did not suffer flood damage this year.)