Protecting roads from industry damage on Schoharie County agenda

A proposed law would make contractors set money aside for road repair before conducting major indust

A proposed law would make contractors set money aside for road repair before conducting major industrial work like hydro fracturing and logging in Schoharie County.

Schoharie County supervisors opened a public hearing on the draft in August and the public comment period remains open, according to Summit Supervisor Harold Vroman, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors.

Modeled after the law adopted by the town of Sharon, the proposed county law aims to get contractors to address any damage to roads and infrastructure that could result from the use of heavy machinery. It acknowledges the potential for economic benefits of these activities but calls for planning and oversight to protect bridges, guard rails, sidewalks and culverts.

The law would apply to operations such as natural gas drilling and hydro fracturing, the development of wind energy or telecommunication facilities and mining, according to a draft.

Landowners in several Schoharie County towns have leased their property to companies looking to pull natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, a massive underground rock formation.

The process to get gas from the stone — hydrofracking or fracking, as it is popularly known — is opposed by some people worried about its impact on groundwater, infrastructure and the environment. Some towns are involved in lawsuits with drilling companies over a direct ban on the process, but road preservation laws appear to be a legal means to try to minimize any impacts, County Attorney Mike West said.

As long as road preservation laws aren’t “extreme,” such as requiring billions of dollars set aside for each mile of road, they should be useful, he said. “I think some towns see it as the only way they can try to regulate [hydro fracturing] or keep it out. But I think it’s a good planning tool.”

According to the draft, the law would delegate oversight to the county public works commissioner, who would be charged with “assuring commercial and industrial activities do not have an adverse impact on all county roads and property.” It establishes a road preservation vehicle permit that would be required to operate “high frequency” or “high impact” truck traffic.

An application form would require a map of proposed travel routes and a current photographic or video depiction of the roads along the route. Photographic or video recording would have to continue monthly during the work. The applicant also would have to provide a highway permit bond, maintenance bond or other bond determined by the county board.

Applicants may also be required to issue a bond, the value of which would depend on the type of road. Establishing a bond figure for traveling over a dirt or gravel road would entail multiplying $3,500 by the number of miles and then by the number of vehicles on the peak travel day. For a fully asphalt developed road, the bond amount is established using the same formula but with the amount of $94,200 per mile.

A bridge would require a bond of $500,000 if it’s up to 19 feet long or $1.5 million if it’s 20 feet or longer. The law also allows for a waiver of the requirements; requests would have to be submitted to the county board and spell out what “special circumstances” exist that warrant it.

Robert Nied, a director at Schoharie Valley Watch, said road preservation laws are necessary but may not go far enough to cover taxpayer costs. The local government watchdog group that’s been monitoring hydro fracturing operations in other states and its development in New York.

“We’d like to see this be a very strong law,” Nied said.

He said in other places, damage to roads and other infrastructure amounted to more money than responsible companies were required to set aside, so taxpayers got stuck footing part of the bill.

He said the fact that the county is leaving the public hearing open is heartening since the county’s draft law isn’t readily available nor on the county website. “On anything as complicated as this we always hope they leave the public hearing open long enough.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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