‘Our Plan is to Start Paving’

Philipstown says it will have aggressive response to storm damage

The fraught issue of resurfacing dirt roads resurfaced last week in Philipstown when Supervisor John Van Tassel revealed plans to pave some such roads — at least in part — after last month’s storms created washouts and pushed debris into streams. 

“We need to address this aggressively,” he said at the board’s monthly meeting Aug. 3. “Our plan is to start paving.”

Between July 8 and Aug. 2, Philipstown spent $94,000 on road repairs, often on dirt roads, he said. He mentioned “culverts in Nelsonville, full of pieces of Lane Gate Road that we had to remove,” and similar wreckage elsewhere. “It’s not only a fiscal disaster for the town, it’s an environmental disaster,” he said.

Van Tassel acknowledged that July’s torrents damaged paved roads, as well, but described dirt roads as particularly vulnerable. Crews “put the roads together [on a] Sunday night, into Monday, and Tuesday they were gone again,” he recalled. Hence, he explained, the need to pave — “not the entire road,” but sections “that are chronically washing out, storm after storm after storm.”

Councilor Robert Flaherty concurred. “We’re not going around paving every single dirt road in our community,” he said. “We’re looking at trouble spots.”

Councilor Jason Angell, who lives on South Mountain Pass and comes “from a passionate dirt-road family,” remembered how, in 2015, homeowners protested plans to pave the western tip of his road, at its intersection with Route 9D. Eight years later, “I’m sure this is going to be a passionate conversation because we’ve all been part of those meetings in the past,” Angell said. “And I’m also someone who cares about the environment. I’ve seen culverts showing up in places they shouldn’t” and Item 4 [a dirt-road surface material] “going into the creeks.” Moreover, in recent years he said he has witnessed frequent washouts. He advised “taking a hard look” at paving dirt roads. 

Van Tassel said town officials plan to review paving details this fall, focusing on select roads suggested by Adam Hotaling, the highway superintendent. He also said he would seek federal relief money to help fund the work. 

Terry Zaleski, a resident of Old Albany Post Road, a historic byway, is president of the Old Road Society. He urged the Town Board to avoid basing decisions on after-effects of the July rain.

“Extreme events should not undermine” years of efforts to save the town’s ambience, he said. “We know there were real problems on some dirt roads, but similarly there were real problems on many of the paved roads, here and there. So is paving always the answer?”

Madeline Rae, who also lives on Old Albany Post Road, advised the Town Board to follow practices in dirt-road maintenance guides, including one presented to the Town Board in 2016 by a specialist enlisted by the road society.

“The most important thing is following the manuals, not spending millions of dollars on paving,” she said. “We can invest in keeping the rural character of Philipstown.” 

She blamed problems on the town’s Item 4 mixture. Without a “binder,” its sand and gravel material washes away, plus “cars go over it and break the rocks and you have dust,” Rae said.

Van Tassel replied that the problem can’t be attributed to freakish weather. “We’re in a different environment,” he said. “The climate is changing. We get a 100-year storm, it seems, every six months.” Moreover, he said, the town improved drainage and changed its grading methods and road-topping mixture, but washouts continue. “No matter what we do, we can’t keep the dirt on,” he said.


In other business, the Town Board unanimously approved interagency agreements for emergency services, gas for Cold Spring police cars and the Metro-North stop at Manitou.

The contract involving emergency services allows Putnam County to erect a radio communications tower and building on 2,600 square feet at the town Highway Department on Fishkill Road, at the edge of Nelsonville. The county will lease the space for 35 years for a token fee of $1. 

“It is the last piece of the puzzle” in solving a communications dilemma, Van Tassel said, observing that, throughout his 40 years as a first-responder, Philipstown has lacked adequate connectivity with the rest of Putnam. He emphasized that “there will be no commercial providers on this tower. It is strictly for emergency services communication. We’re excited about it.” 

Ralph Falloon, a former Cold Spring mayor who is deputy commissioner of the county Bureau of Emergency Services, described the tower as the last in an 11-unit chain that would give Putnam a “seamless connection from Breakneck” to the eastern border with Connecticut.

Under a second agreement, Cold Spring will be allowed to fuel its police cars, fire vehicles and utility fleet at the Highway Department garage at wholesale prices. The town already provides at-cost fuel for Putnam County vehicles. The village fueling equipment is outdated and needs repair, the contract notes. 

Finally, the board approved an agreement to allow Philipstown to collaborate with Metro-North on safety upgrades at the Manitou stop. Van Tassel said the improvements include a new path for pedestrian access.

2 thoughts on “‘Our Plan is to Start Paving’

  1. Here we go again. The Philipstown Highway Department has been doing an outstanding job of constructing and maintain-ing our dirt roads, but someone just can’t resist the chance to promote pavement.

    The dirt roads came through the fierce storms very well. Some repairs were needed, but they are fast and less expensive on dirt roads. We are lucky to still have them; they are an aspect of what makes Philipstown famous and special.

    Thank you, Highway Department — the long hill where I live on Old Albany Post Road fared well.

    • One idea would be for the residents of Old Albany Post Road to fund its maintenance, since this passion project is important to so many of them. Supervisor Van Tassel, who has a lot of common sense, is right: These storms are more than once every 100 years. I’m a Philipstown taxpayer who’s tired of supporting impractical initiatives when the funds can go to so much better use.

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