Emails about Berne roads riles highway super

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Debris clings to the edge of a bridge on Bradt Hollow Road in Berne, which was eroded by torrential rain over Memorial Day weekend in 2016. Bashwinger said last week that flooding is a reason why some ditches such as on Bradt Hollow Road are so deep.

BERNE — An email discussion by the Berne Town Board to address concerns about town roads riled the highway superintendent and a town councilman — both Republicans, on a Democrat-dominated board — at the Feb. 14 town board meeting.

Highway Superintendent Randy Bashwinger asked the town board to discuss issues involving the highway department with him after he found out that the board had been discussing using an engineer to analyze town roads following the publication of a letter to the Enterprise editor expressing concern about the depth of ditches on roads in Berne and saying that Bradt Hollow Road needs a guardrail.

Bashwinger had been contacted by The Enterprise, and his response was published alongside the letter. The superintendent said that flooding and depths of culverts were a factor in the depth of ditches. He agreed that Bradt Hollow Road needs a guardrail but said that the town could not afford to install one on its own and had not yet been able to organize with Albany County to use its machine.

Dennis Palow, a Republican who was recently elected to the board after running alongside Bashwinger, the town’s GOP chairman, said that he felt the board had been questioning Bashwinger’s capability as superintendent and added that that was why he showed Bashwinger the emails.

Councilman Joel Willsey, a Democrat who had also recently been elected to the board and who has previously argued with Bashwinger over his decision make Stage Road a seasonal road, told the highway superintendent that the email exchanges among the board members had been regarding the steep drop in the ditches.

Willsey, who works for the state’s Department of Transportation, said that the slope needed to be brought up so that drivers are “not destabilized and pulled off the road.”

Deputy Supervisor Karen Schimmer, a Democrat, said that the board was not accusing the highway superintendent, but was discussing whether roadwork on streets like Bradt Hollow Road could use an expert’s advice.

“Well, it’s not beyond me,” replied Bashwinger.

Bashwinger explained that he would either have to wait for county help to build a guardrail or spend the entirety of funds from the state’s Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program, known as CHIPs.

“I would love to do it for safety, but we just don’t have it,” he said.

Willsey suggested using traffic drums to prevent drivers going off the roads that have steep drop-offs.

“This is a dangerous situation which you’ve addressed, which is great,” Willsey said, but added that it needs to be addressed further.

Solar law passes

The board held a public hearing for four different proposed laws: a law to allow small-scale solar arrays, and three moratoriums — on solar energy, industrial-scale solar arrays, and hydraulic fracturing. Only one member of the public spoke at the hearing, addressing the small-scale solar energy bill.

Resident Mathew Harris, who had been critical of the bill at the town board’s January meeting, said he thought that the bill had been “cleaned up,” but said he was confused about a section that stated solar-panel systems would require a new permit if modifications caused an increase in capacity over 110-percent of the previous year’s capacity. Harris was told by the town board that modifications that do not change the structure’s size, height, or location would not need a permit, which alleviated his concerns about wanting to alter “the guts” of an array.

Later in the meeting, the town board unanimously voted in favor of the law and also approved creating a solar-panel permit. The board declined to move on the solar energy moratorium, as it would not be relevant after passing the new law, but upheld two six-month moratoriums on industrial-scale solar arrays and hydraulic fracturing.

The small-scale array law allows residents to set up solar arrays at their homes, businesses, or farms so long as the capacity is no more than 110-percent of the previous year’s consumed energy. A permit is required to set up an array, which must be installed by a qualified solar installer as determined by the building and zoning department. Systems exceeding a capacity of 25 kilowatts will also require site-plan approval.

Roof-mounted and building-integrated solar arrays are permitted in all districts but require site-plan approval by the planning board in the historic district. Ground-mounted arrays require site-plan approval and a special-use permit in all but two districts. These ground-mounted arrays will also have height and setback requirements.

The law also requires abandoned systems to be removed from a resident’s property, and that a permit be issued to decommission an array.

Facebook page

The board discussed creating an official town Facebook page. The discussion follows the approval of a social-media policy in January that said any social-media sites that say they are town pages would have to be official, and could not publish anything offensive.

The law caused some concern about Bashwinger’s highway-department page and an unofficial town page, “The Happenings in the Town of Berne,” which has had politically charged comments in the past and has supported Republican-backed candidates.

Supervisor Sean Lyons, a recently elected Republican, said that he was opposed to an official town Facebook page. Instead, he suggested revamping the town website and offering a way to submit public comments. The rest of the board was open to this, noting that it would be easier to monitor comments, and agreed to table the motion and review this option further.

Other business

In addition, the town board also:

— Received a decision from the state that a reduction of the speed limit from 55 miles per hour on Route 443 between Route 85 and the East Berne hamlet is not necessary;

— Approved the purchase of a sander for a highway-department truck and authorized Bashwinger to spend up $2,500 rather than $1,000 for tools and equipment. The board also discussed creating a request for bids for materials for the highway department next month;

— Changed the town’s procurement policy so that committees may spend up to $350 without town board approval; and

— Heard from Schimmer that Monika Boeckmann, executive director of Senior Services of Albany, will be speaking at the senior center on Feb. 26;

— Heard from Willsey that Robyn Reynolds of the Capital District Regional Planning Commision had spoken at the conservation board’s meeting and introduced the possibility of Berne applying for the Clean Energy Communities grant through the New York State Research and Energy Development Authority. Knox has recently reached the final steps in acquiring $130,000 in funds from that program;

— Heard from the Berne Public Library that a reception will be held on March 3 to announce winners of the library’s photography contest and celebrate library manager Judy Petrosillo, who will be leaving her post on March 1;

— Approved the matching $17,000 in funds that the library will receive from a construction grant to repair its roof;

— Heard from Schimmer that the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District is working with the Switzkill Farm Board to create courses that can use the town property;

— Agreed to create an outline for a proposed roofing project at the Switzkill Farm lodge in order for businesses to know the specifics the town wants in a request for proposals. Schimmer said that the roof is 57 years old and will need to have its tiles replaced, it was estimated the cost will be around $50,000;

— Appointed Mark Senegenberger to a five-year term on the planning board, Mark Hohengasser and Alexis Smith as alternates on the planning board, Lisa Raymond to a two-year term on the youth council, and Jean Guarino to the youth council as chairwoman;

— Approved the creation of a waste-reduction committee and appointed planning board member Emily Vincent chairwoman and appointed Jeff Alexander, Alexis Goldsmith, former supervisor Kevin Crosier, and Willsey as members;

— Approved Berne joining the Association of Towns; and

— Approved a lease, at no cost to Berne, with the town of Rensselaerville in order to use Rensselaerville’s dog control officer and kennel.


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