A State Supreme Court judge has ordered Riverhead Highway Superintendent George Woodson to plow roads in the Oak Hills neighborhood in Baiting Hollow this winter.
The decision, issued Jan. 8 by State Supreme Court Justice David Reilly, directs Woodson and the town highway department “to perform snow and ice maintenance and removal services for all roadways” in Oak Hills “for all weather events where equal services are performed on other Town of Riverhead roads.”
David Antwork, attorney for the Oak Hills Association, which sued the town in 2016 over responsibility for the roads in the neighborhood — that case is still pending — said he brought the special proceeding because the highway superintendent has refused to plow all the roads in the community.
“We’re now entering the third winter while this action has been pending,” Antwork said in a phone interview today. Last winter, the town only plowed two of the roads in the community.
Antwork said his clients are simply seeking the services the highway superintendent acknowledged he would provide.
“We have an email from him before this action even began saying the only services will be snow-plowing,” Antwork said.
“It’s ironic and ludicrous that he takes it upon himself to not plow some of the roads,” he said.
The dispute between the highway superintendent and the community of 85 homes north of Sound Avenue began when, in 2014, he notified residents there that the department would no longer provide snow-plowing services. The dozen roads in the community were laid out as private roads. Woodson said the practice of plowing them began under his predecessor in office. Woodson argued that the practice violates the state constitution, which prohibits the expenditure of town highway funds on non-town roads.
In December 2014, the town held a public hearing on the historical use and care of the town’s numerous “private” roads. Invoking section 189 of the N.Y. State Highway Law, which speaks to the legal status of “highways by use,” the town board determined that the roads within Oak Hills would be plowed by the highway department and patched if necessary, but would not receive any other services, such as drainage improvements and resurfacing.
The homeowners association sued, arguing that after admitting the roads under section 189, the town had a responsibility to treat them like all other town roads. The association argues that the town had no authority to grant section 189 status for the roads for the limited purpose of providing snow clearing and emergency patching.
Now, Antwork says, the community is asking the highway department to do what it agreed it would do when it designated the roads as section 189 “highways by use” by town board resolution adopted in September 2017.
After the town board adopted that resolution, Woodson sued the town board, seeking to have the resolution annulled.
In a separate decision in that case rendered Dec. 20 by State Supreme Court Justice H. Patrick Leis, the court dismissed Woodson’s petition with regard to four Oak Hills roads: Oak Drive, Harper Road, Fern Road East and Laurel Lane. The court granted his petition with regard to the other eight roads in the community.
Antwork says the decision does not mean the remaining eight roads don’t have section 189 status. It only means they were not conferred that status by the town board resolution in question, he said.
The status of those roads will be decided in the action brought by the homeowners association in 2016, according to Antwork.
Reilly’s order makes no mention of Leis’ ruling, so it’s not clear if the term “roadways,” as used by Reilly, is limited by Leis’ Dec. 20 ruling.
“We’ve received Justice Reilly’s decision and we are studying it,” Woodson’s attorney Peter Bee said. He declined further comment.
Riverhead town attorney Robert Kozakiewicz, citing the pending lawsuit, declined comment.
The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.