Sandwich's Private Road No-Plow Policies Have Residents Crying Foul
By: Mary Stanley
Despite cutting back vegetation and filling in potholes, some residents living on private roads may still be left out in the cold this winter when it comes to getting their road plowed by the town.
Residents living along private roads on the town’s Do Not Plow List had until October 1 to complete the necessary improvements and petition the town for a second inspection of their roads so that they could be removed from the list.
Between October 1 and October 15, Engineering Technician Sean P. Harrington, along with Department of Public Works Foreman Stefan E. Masse reinspected 64 roads on the list. Of those, 31 were approved and taken off of this year’s Do Not Plow list. The other 33 were denied.
And now residents living on some of these roads are looking to appeal the DPW’s decision.
Robert J. Buehler of Samba Circle, which is accessed from Fox Trot Run, said he met with Mr. Harrington in August to go over the work that needed to be done on Fox Trot Run so that both roads would receive plowing services this winter.
“I asked him to come out and go over the site with me so that I understood the issues that needed to be addressed,” Mr. Buehler said. He said he took copious notes during his meeting with Mr. Harrington and on September 8 and 9, he and his neighbor William J. Russell of Fox Trot Run went out and cut back branches and other vegetation, as recommended by Mr. Harrington. They even repaired one area of the road that was beginning to show signs of deterioration, even though Mr. Harrington had never cited it as an issue.
Mr. Harrington said he has been meeting with residents throughout the summer months, going over the work that needed to be done, clarifying areas that needed to be fixed, and pointing out vegetation that needed to be cut back. He said he met several times with neighbors from the Torrey Road and Carleton Shore neighborhoods.
Though Mr. Buehler invited Mr. Harrington to come out to his neighborhood in early September and to meet with him one more time before making his final inspection of the roads at the beginning of October, he said Mr. Harrington could not accommodate the request. “I just wanted to make sure that everything was okay and would meet his approval,” Mr. Buehler said.
In October, Mr. Harrington reinspected the road and despite the work that Mr. Buehler and Mr. Russell had done, Fox Trot Run did not pass muster.
“I received an e-mail on October 10 saying it had been denied because of vertical clearance and shrubbery. I went out there again this past weekend and measured the areas and did not find anything wrong,” Mr. Buehler said. “It seems very subjective and the policy is vague.”
Attorney Jonathan D. Fitch, who lives on Great Island, which is also on the Do Not Plow list, filed his letter of appeal this week asking for reconsideration of the DPW’s decision.
Mr. Fitch said he takes issue with both the policy and the process that is being followed. He said there is a lack of clear communication with respect to the issues that are causing a road to be placed on the Do Not Plow List.
“I received a notice stating that there were “restrictive gates, speed bumps and hindrances. I don’t know what they are talking about,” he said.
He said that the letter indicated that the road lacks a 14 foot vertical clearance, because of low hanging branches. “But it doesn’t say where or in how many places,” Mr. Fitch said.
He added that the policy itself is not fair to the homeowners living on private roads. “They have these minimum requirements in the policy. You can’t expect the private roads to meet requirements that the public roads do not meet,” he said.
He pointed out that Discovery Hill Road, which is public, does not have a turn around. And that Spring Hill Road, which is another public road, has no shoulders in several areas.
Mr. Buehler agreed. “You can drive on a lot of public roads that don’t meet the requirements in the winter road maintenance policy,” he said.
Mr. Fitch said he is disappointed with how the policy is being applied. “The policy has to be applied fairly and it must be reasonable,” he said.
Mr. Buehler said he understands that living on a private road comes with certain responsibilities and that he and his neighbors are trying to live up to their obligations.
“Our main goal is to have both roads available for plowing. The whole point is to work cooperatively with the town,” he said.
Mr. Fitch questions the appeal process itself, which is still being defined. “Paragraph 7 of the policy states that you may present an appeal to a subcommittee of the board of selectmen who will consult with the director of the DPW. That suggests a behind closed doors meeting of the board of selectmen and the very department that made the denial. It doesn’t sound like an open process at all,” he said.
Given that this is the first time that residents have had the opportunity to appeal a denial for snow plowing services, Mr. Harrington said he was not sure how the process would run. Selectman James W. Pierce, who is a member of the subcommittee which will handle the appeals, said DPW Director Paul S. Tilton is now working on establishing the process that will be followed. Mr. Pierce has already suggested that the process require a selectmen of the subcommittee to make a field visit with the DPW director to view the issues with the road. “I can’t guarantee that the process will require a site visit, but I hope it does,” he said.
“The subcommittee cannot overturn the winter road maintenance policy but it can overturn the decision of the DPW,” he added.
Residents living on private roads that were re-inspected in October and denied have until November 1 to file an appeal with the board of selectmen. That appeal can be filed by sending a letter to the Board of Selectmen, Town Hall, 130 Main Street, Sandwich, MA 02563.
The Appeals Committee will make a final decision on the appeal by November 15. This final decision may not be appealed further.
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