August 14, 2012 —
For some in the town of Cochecton, the Road Use Law, which was listed under the title of new business, is anything but new.
Drafted over the past four years by the Multiple Municipal Task Force, which comprises the towns of Callicoon, Delaware, Bethel, Cochecton, Tusten, Lumberland and Highland, the Local Road Use and Preservation Law is aimed at protecting these townships from “high impact activities that have the potential to adversely affect roads and public and nonpublic properties.”
The law comes on the heels of an incident in 2008, where the trucks and equipment used for the Millennium Pipeline (MP) replacement project caused considerable damage to the roads in the town of Cochecton. In this case, the town had collected money from MP, creating an escrow account for potential damages to town roads. This helped the town cover the costs of repairing the roads, which town supervisor Gary Maas said came to about $120,000. But the outcome wasn’t guaranteed by law.
The Road Use Law seeks to force companies that pose a threat to the condition of town roads to pay up before any trucks can cross town lines.
“Once the truck traffic came like that, it would have triggered the law, and we would have gotten more money up front,” said Maas.
The trigger occurs when the town highway superintendent, using information provided by the company responsible for the project, decides that the project will exceed normal wear and tear on town highways. If the law is triggered, the company has to alter their route plans and possibly pay a deposit for potential damage. It also would be responsible for shoring up existing roads that may not be able to handle the load of large vehicles. Maas said that the law gives the towns a lot of power in monitoring and controlling the use of their roads.
Depending on their needs, towns can force companies to reroute trucks and equipment around schools and can limit when the roads can be used for those vehicles.
Unity among townships, Maas said, is a crucial aspect of this law, especially if hydraulic fracturing finds a home in Sullivan County.
“Say a well is on the borderline between here and Tusten, and the trucks are going through Tusten but only a half-mile into Cochecton. That lease agreement, if all have it, will also cover Tusten,” Maas said. He added that the law was not written to help pave the way for fracking, but it will help protect the public should fracking get the green light here.
That said, not everyone has the warm, fuzzy feeling of protection the law aims to provide. Attorney Grace Van Hulsteyn said, “There is nothing in it limiting weight or traffic volume, nothing providing for tracking or monitoring, no apparent record keeping requirement. I, being an attorney, consider it to be toothless.” She added, “It appears that no road, no matter how fragile, no matter how sensitive the development on it, is off-limits as a potential haul route. But if the route selected is deficient in design ‘geometry’ or health and safety, the town may have some say as to its selection.”
Maas said he hopes to have a game plan by next month and to schedule a public hearing on the law soon after. The law can be viewed in its entirety on townofcochectonny.org.