Construction and work-zone practices in Berne are unnecessarily dangerous

"Here is a recent photo that illustrates that this incredibly dangerous condition created on Oct. 21 2019 still exists," states Joel Willsey.

To the Editor:

In my opinion, and in the documented opinion of numerous Berne residents and users of Berne highways, there are highway construction and work-zone practices in Berne that are unacceptably hazardous during construction that also result in long-term hazards. 

This written documentation has been provided to the superintendent of highways, the town clerk, and the supervisor on Feb. 27, 2020. The very dangerous conditions remain today, six months after the 2019 projects.

I also feel that the Berne superintendent of highways, the Berne supervisor, and the Berne deputy supervisor are responsible for putting the traveling public at unnecessary risk on Berne highways. I feel their negligent actions meet the definition of maladministration.

Under Public Officers Law section 36, the district attorney may commence a court proceeding to remove elected officials engaged in maladministration. This documented maladministration is designed to protect the GOP chairman and ensure no scrutiny of his performance as superintendent of highways.

I am confident that construction and work-zone practices in Berne are unnecessarily dangerous and wildly inconsistent with currently accepted industry practice and standards set by New York Vehicle and Traffic Law.

I spent five years reviewing interstate, state, and local highway and bridge projects and my opinions were respected and objectively discussed by scores of professional engineers. These three elected officials do not respect my opinions and have taken deliberate action to derail a board-approved initiative specifically designed to address these hazards.



The deputy supervisor’s motion to “cancel” this initiative is based on an estimate that cannot be documented and an opinion statement from the Cornell Local Roads program he will not produce or document. I would suggest his statements are not true.

Elected officials have a responsibility to be accurate and truthful in matters of public safety. That is becoming increasingly evident as the current pandemic progresses.

The deputy supervisor’s Jan. 8 claim that this evaluation of highway department practices would cost “hundreds of thousands” is simply not true. His denial at the February meeting that he even said that is also not true. Recording clips from both meetings are provided here to clearly illustrate malfeasance.

No documentation of his claim that Cornell Local Roads approves of anything regarding highway safety in the town of Berne has been provided in response to my requests. In my opinion, any council members who voted to cancel this public safety initiative based on these statements have engaged in negligence and maladministration that puts the traveling public at unnecessary risk of injury or death.

Beginning back in January 2018, my first month on the board, I and council members Karen Schimmer and Dawn Jordan began to encourage the consultation of a professional engineer to evaluate practices and resulting situations that we feel are unacceptably dangerous for the traveling public. These dangerous practices continue today.

We recommended a careful, measured, step-by-step approach guided by (and stamped by) a professional engineer certified to practice in New York State. Our goal was to have the engineer help identify problems and establish a schedule of issues needing attention based on a hierarchy where the more dangerous issues would be of the highest priority.

This does not expose the town to any liability that doesn’t already exist and, in fact, would illustrate that the town is proactively identifying and addressing potential public safety issues. This would actually be beneficial to the town in any court proceeding.

The supervisor found an engineer’s evaluation to be a reasonable option as has been documented, but later denied this in The Enterprise. He also asked the deputy supervisor, then liaison to the highway department, to investigate the availability of free engineering services from the Association of Towns and the Cornell Local Roads Program. This is also documented.

There was no follow-through with this request and/or these organizations were apparently unwilling to expose themselves to potential liability in a matter of public safety. We ultimately received no information at all regarding free engineering or even any advice from the Association of Towns or Cornell Local Roads Program from the deputy supervisor/highway department liaison.

I have well documented the continuing five-year practice of placing highway overlays (using state funding) in a manner that creates long-term hazards. Construction operations are not scheduled or coordinated.

The travel lanes are overlaid with wildly varying thicknesses, which results in high drop-offs at the edges of the travel lanes that are left unprotected for months before the shoulder material is placed. These steps at the edge of travel lanes typically vary from 2 to 10 inches.

This practice is incredibly dangerous. We are fortunate that the traffic volume on these highways is low. But eventually someone will be hurt or killed when their vehicle meanders out of the travel lane a few inches and drops off an eight-inch step. 

All modes of traffic are at risk; motor vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists, horseback riders — basically anyone using these Berne highways.

Last August, multiple Berne work zones for culvert replacements did not reflect the standards required by Vehicle and Traffic Law. I think I have more than sufficiently documented this in the slides provided.

We had a board-approved evaluation of these non-compliant practices initiated in 2019. As noted above, that evaluation was cancelled in a motion based on falsehoods.

A minivan ended up in a deep excavation last August due to negligence and maladministration in my opinion. I think this was, in part, due to willful ignorance of the work-zone safety standards required by Vehicle and Traffic Law and poorly coordinated operations.

The cancelled evaluation was to objectively and independently evaluate these issues. Apparently, protecting the GOP chairman’s tax-paid salary takes priority over public safety.

The supervisor advised the board in an email dated Oct. 12, 2019 at 11:13 a.m. that he was forming a committee to investigate the Aug. 1, 2019 accident on Bridge Road. Who was appointed to this committee?

I am not aware of any such committee and I have been provided with no results of any investigation or review of the incident. This is a matter of public safety and nothing that is being said by these people can be trusted. The highway superintendent would not answer specific board questions about this incident (and blamed the victim).

I have well documented conscious and deliberate deception by elected officials in an effort to derail a board-approved safety initiative. I have also documented hazardous work-zone safety practices and illustrated how they are inconsistent with the standards required by vehicle and traffic law. I cannot imagine how any insurance organization would be comfortable insuring the town of Berne. 

Joel Willsey

Berne Town Board


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