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Ancram ponders orphaning roads

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ANCRAM–The Town Board is considering whether to cut back on the maintenance of several town roads or to abandon the roads entirely.

   The matter came up at the July 16 Ancram Town Board meeting. The roads under consideration are: Crest Lane Extension, Sheppard Road, Rothvoss Road, Ken’s Road, School House Road, Altenburg Road, Rabbit Tail Road, Stewart’s Road, Bash Road and portions of Sawchuck Road and Over Mountain Road.

   Highway Superintendent James MacArthur told the board that not all the roads mentioned can be changed to seasonal-use roads, because they have one or more houses on them.

   State law authorizes town highway superintendents to designate any highway as a seasonal limited-use highway as long as the road has no occupied residences or commercial buildings that depend on the road for access.

   The limited use designation means that snow and ice removal and maintenance may be temporarily discontinued from December 1 to April 1. The designation has to be made before November 1, and the road has to be posted as a seasonal limited-use highway.

   Roads with a traffic volume of 50 or fewer vehicles per day or that are primarily used for agricultural or recreational land access and have no year-round residences or businesses on them can be designated “minimum maintenance” highways, according to Mr. MacArthur.

   That designation requires the road be “maintained at a level that allows the road to remain passable and functional in accordance with the guidelines for rural, town and county roads,” according to the law.

   Many of the roads in question are dead ends and are essentially driveways to a single residence.

   Deputy Supervisor Donna Hoyt said that if roads with buildings on them are not maintained, then fire trucks would not have access to the structures in the event of fire, and people could lose their property.

   On his way out to deal with reports of trees and wires down across several roads, Ancram Fire Chief David Boice took a moment to tell the board that limited access to at least one of the mentioned roads, Over Mountain Road, could be problematic.

   Raging before and during the meeting, the storm that brought the hail, thunder and lightning causing trees and wires to fall, also caused the lights to go out in the Town Hall until the generator kicked in.

   A man in the audience pointed out that the town might be opening itself up to “tremendous liability” because people who have lived on the roads in question for a number of years expect they will be maintained.

   Town Attorney Jason Shaw told the board that a town road cannot be designated as a seasonal-use road without the consent of the people who live on the road.

   Someone in the audience wanted to know how these one-house roads became town roads in the first place.

   In times past, when farmers had to get their milk delivered before it spoiled, the town highway crew often helped them out in bad weather. Over the years that translated to the town taking over maintenance of the roads, Supervisor Thomas Dias said.

   “I’ve seen the town plow out barnyards so the milk trucks could get in there. That was when the farmers ran the town,” said resident Kermit Hoyt.

   Before any action is taken, the board agreed that people who have homes or businesses on these roads would be contacted and asked for their input.

   Councilwoman Hoyt noted that some people might prefer to have their roads abandoned.

   To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@ColumbiaPaper.com.

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