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Taking care of the roads

May 19, 2011

Sullivan County’s Multi-Municipal Taskforce (MMTF) was formed in 2008 to create a legal framework that will allow towns to ensure that road damage caused by high-traffic activities is paid for by the companies that do the damage—not the taxpayer. Its efforts are now coming close to fruition: on Monday, May 16, copies of the draft GEIS, technical manuals and template laws for the system devised by the legal firm of Whiteman, Osterman, and Hanna and Delta Engineers were mailed to the member towns (Bethel, Callicoon, Cochecton, Delaware, Highland, Lumberland, Rockland and Tusten). The next step is for each individual town board to approve the documents, and make them available to the public. A public hearing will then be held, with the target date being sometime during the week of June 27 to 30. At a taskforce meeting held on May 12, the hope was voiced that there will be a final vote on the laws (each town will hold a separate vote on an identical law) sometime in August.

The project undertaken by the taskforce is stunning in its scope, including not only the environmental considerations of the GEIS, but engineering studies regarding the road capacities in each member town, traffic counts, training of personnel, map creation, the drafting of template laws and more. Some of the work was done by the firms retained by the taskforce; the rest of it has been the responsibility of the member municipalities, who appear to have risen to the occasion admirably.

Most importantly, the manuals and template laws delivered to the taskforce spell out in specific detail the steps and procedures the towns must undertake in order to identify those road users who should be liable for repairs if the roads suffer undue damage, and to draw up effective bonding agreements with them. Probably the biggest stumbling block to devising such a system was to come up with a screening system that distinguishes traffic that is really causing excessive damage to roads—for example, trucks associated with major new industrial projects like the Millennium Pipeline or natural gas drilling—from traditional traffic by equally heavy vehicles like milk trucks, lumber trucks and local construction vehicles. Essential to the existing economy and already factored into existing highway budgets, most of these belong to small local businesses that wouldn’t be able to afford the bonds. The MMTF finds a way to protect this traffic using a screen that combines measures of weight and frequency.