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December 03, 2016
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Bethel adopts highway use law; Significant changes to model law

Logging trucks that have been using Creamery Road and Gale Road may be compelled to use county and state roads under the newly passed Bethel highway use law.
TRR photo by Fritz Mayer

As one of the towns looking at the adoption of a local law to protect town roads, the Town of Bethel adopted a Road Use and Preservation Law at the town meeting on March 13. The law, however, has some significant differences from the model law that emerged from the Multi-Municipal Task Force (MMTF), which is a group of eight towns that were working together with a law firm and engineering firm to come up with a plan to protect town roads.

Bethel town attorney Rob McEwan said the Bethel law was “less restrictive” than the model law proposed through the MMTF process because, “the state law does not allow the town to require an owner or operator of any vehicle to enter into a road use agreement.”

He added that state law does allow quite a bit of regulation in some areas, such as the creation of a truck route system. The truck route system created by the town will prohibit trucks over 33,000 pounds from using town roads except in the case of pick-ups and deliveries to addresses on town roads. This provision will not apply to agricultural vehicles, town vehicles or school buses.

State law also allows towns to develop a permit system for overweight vehicles that weigh 80,000 pounds or more, and for oversized vehicles that are required to ride with companion vehicles.

He said that while state law does not allow the town to require vehicles to enter into road-use agreements, the town may create voluntary agreements with vehicle owners and operators. Owners and operators connected with large projects and multiple truck trips will likely be willing to enter into agreements to upgrade existing roadways or to repair damaged roads. If, however, those owners or operators choose not to enter into road-use agreements, and their large projects result in damage to town roads, state law provides that those owners and operators are subject to “treble damages” to compensate the town.

The question of a highway law arose in the town about three years ago when it seemed that gas drilling and thousands of truck trips per well could possibly be coming to the town. Bethel has passed a gas-drilling ban and, if similar bans are upheld in the higher courts, there will be no drilling in the town, and therefore the possibility of thousands of drilling-related trucks harming town roads is significantly reduced.

However, the local law will have significant impacts in other ways. At the public hearing, for instance, several residents complained about logging trucks that were using Creamery Road and other roads as short cuts to get to Route 17B, and causing damage to the roads, especially now that the spring thaw has begun. Kathy DeGraff said there are logging trucks, rock haulers, mulch haulers, and other tractor trailers using the roads.

Attorney Karen London, who lives in Bethel and was on the committee that shaped the local law, said it would address this situation, and prevent large trucks from using town roads when more substantial county and state roads are available.

Resident Bob Barrett said another area where trucks use local roads is Smallwood, where drivers take shortcuts through the community to avoid New York State Department of Transportation traffic stops set up on Route 17B.

McEwan said that the enforcement provision of the new law provides for a fine of up to $5,000 for a first offense and escalating fines for additional offenses. He also said that once signs are placed at the appropriate locations, enforcement of the law could begin.

Supervisor Dan Strum said the committee that created the law would meet once again to review which roads need signage.