By Dan Hust
SULLIVAN COUNTY The Town of Bethel Board last week became one of the first to approve a monthlong extension of the comment period on a road use agreement.
And on Wednesday, the Town of Delaware Board unanimously agreed, as well with a good possibility that the comment period will be extended yet again.
A recent public hearing by the Multi-Municipal Task Force (MMTF) featured several requests by residents to deliberate further before adopting such an agreement, which would allow the eight involved townships to regulate heavy industrial truck traffic on their roads.
Comprised of Bethel, Callicoon, Cochecton, Delaware, Highland, Lumberland, Rockland and Tusten, the MMTF and its contracted engineering and legal firms have been working for two years to draft a workable, legally defensible method of gauging potential and actual truck damage to town roads, then having the trucking companies pay for both damages and necessary improvements.
Originally envisioned to handle gas drilling companies and their subcontractors, the road use agreement would cover most trucking industries not already normally using local roads.
The recent public hearing, however, was held just in anticipation of adopting the required SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) declaration. Each town then has to individually enact the road use agreement into law.
Thus the Bethel and Delaware town boards’ agreement to extend the acceptance of written comments from July 18 to 4 p.m. on August 19 only applies to that SEQRA process.
The document tied to that process the draft generic environmental impact statement is available at any of the involved townships’ town halls and websites.
Comments can be sent via email or mail to any of the town clerks or to the law firm handling the draft statement: firstname.lastname@example.org or Mark Sweeney at Whiteman, Osterman and Hanna, 1 Commerce Plaza, Albany, NY 12260.
Bethel, Delaware and every other involved township will have to hold their own hearings prior to adopting the law, meaning the road use agreement’s enactment could easily be more than a year away.
Discussion in Delaware
At Wednesday’s Delaware Town Board meeting, resident Steve Lundgren one of the commenters at the prior MMTF hearing asked the town to gather comments from its officials, submit them to the MMTF, and provide them to the public.
“Do you feel prepared for the onslaught of extra work and possible extra cost that will be incurred?” he wondered, fearing a number of “hidden costs” will result from enactment of the road use law.
Town leaders didn’t have an immediate answer for him, but Highway Supt. Bill Eschenberg indicated that any extra work would be worth it.
“How do we take something that could rebuild our infrastructure and throw it out the door?” he questioned, arguing that the governor’s new two-percent tax cap will severely hamper towns’ ability to maintain their roads.
Making specific reference to gas drilling, Eschenberg argued that heavy trucking companies’ presence will be beneficial, as they’ll pay for road improvements before and after their work is done.
“We couldn’t build roads like that if we wanted to,” Eschenberg stated.
“So we should make a plan that they use every single road,” dryly quipped Callicoon resident Linda Bastian, who has previously registered concern about such trucking’s impacts on quality of life.
Eschenberg was insistent, however, that road maintenance and repair costs are reaching unmanageable levels.
“You can’t afford it, I can’t afford it,” he said.