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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 1, 2010

Highway super promises more equipment and personnel

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — After February’s five-feet-in-five-days snowstorm, Highway Superintendent Kenneth Weaver was verbally bombarded at the March town board meeting by residents dissatisfied with the highway department’s performance in removing the heavy, wet snow that blanketed the Hilltowns. The solution: purchasing the proper equipment, and hiring two new employees, Weaver said this week.

“I agree with every one of you,” Weaver told the crowd in March. “We were not around fast enough. This is the worst storm, in the 33 years I’ve worked here, that I’ve ever seen.”

A snow emergency was declared and all town roads were closed, as well as the town hall, library, and transfer station. Supervisor George Gebe, who, like Weaver, was elected in January, wrote a letter to the Enterprise editor after the storm praising the work of the highway department. He said more than 12 roofs collapsed under the snowfall, and that Helderberg Ambulance answered an unprecedented number of calls — 21 — in six days.

Those present at the March meeting criticized the way the department handled the snow removal.

Tim Lippert, who sits on the town’s planning board, said that it was an “uncharacteristically long time before Bradt Hollow Road was plowed,” urging the town to improve communication with residents that lived on the unplowed roads.

“I plowed almost every road on this mountain,” Weaver said, adding that he plowed county roads in the absence of the Albany County Department of Public Works.

Patrick Martin of Cook Hill Road said that “the performance of the highway department crew was unacceptable,” and that the real problem was the town’s lack of a snow emergency plan.

Some told the board they felt like prisoners in their own homes during the storm.

“I don’t want to be a person that this happened to because the snow was too deep,” said Martin.

Weaver told The Enterprise this week that he plans on purchasing two full-size, four-wheel-drive dump trucks this summer to ensure that the town doesn’t “get caught with its pants down” the next time the Helderbergs get hit by this kind of storm. While these vehicles could cost $150,000 brand new, he is confident he will be able to purchase used vehicles for half that.

The department’s ability to remove the several feet of snow was hampered by a lack of such equipment, Weaver told onlookers the March meeting.

“The prior administration sold my extra trucks — four-wheel-drive trucks,” said Weaver. “It was told to me that we don’t have the bad winters anymore. ‘We can do it with little two-wheel drive trucks, or 10-wheelers.’ That’s a fallacy; as you can see, we cannot. I need equipment. If the taxes go up because of this, I apologize.”

The snow turned the town’s dirt roads into mud, and the town-owned plows wouldn’t cut it, which made dealing with this storm a “heavy-equipment game,” he said — “I can’t get up there with 10-wheelers when it’s mud.”

Further, salting the dirt roads would make them unable to be driven on come springtime.

Weaver also said that he has hired Benji Furman and Jason Geel to fill the two vacancies in the highway department, one of which was left by Weaver’s being elected highway superintendent this past November. While he planned on bringing the department back up to a full eight workers eventually, being two men short during the February storm underlined the need to fill that void immediately.

“If there’s ever another storm like that again, I’d love for these people to ride with me so they could see what we do, because I don’t think they have a clue,” Weaver said this week.

“You don’t think I have feelings like this?” he asked the audience in March. “I want to be on every road — I want to be there every five minutes. I hope you understand when I do what I do coming up this summer, because I’m going to change things.”

Other business

In other business at its March meeting, the town board:

— Accepted a bid from Town and Country Bridge and Rail to rebuild the Kaehler Lane Bridge, which has been structurally deficient for years. (For a complete history on the Kaehler Lane Bridge and its need for repair, go to www.altamontenterprise.com and look under archives for Jan. 21, 2010.)

At $155,657, Town and Country Bridge and Rail was the lowest bidder. The highest bid came in at $209,000.

Gebe said this week that construction on the new bridge will likely begin mid-spring.

“They’ve got to order all the steel and everything,” said Gebe. “They’ll probably start working somewhere around the end of April, beginning of May”;

— Voted unanimously to extend the town’s moratorium on wind-energy facilities by six months. The law was originally set to expire in March; and

— Voted unanimously to appoint George Christian to the zoning board of appeals, and to appoint Ronald Jordan and Rick Otto as alternates.

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