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Otsego aims to save roads; Law would fine heavy industry for damage

COOPERSTOWN _ The Otsego County Board of Representatives has introduced a proposed law that seeks to spare taxpayers from paying the costs of fixing roads damaged by heavy industries.

The draft law is designed to put teeth in the county’s road preservation efforts _ and could leave companies that chew up the highways with thousands of dollars in fines and jeopardize their ability to do further business here until they pay for the damage.

“The purpose is to make sure the taxpayers don’t get stuck paying for the damage caused by some big company,” said Rep. Keith McCarty, R-East Springfield, chairman of the board’s public works committee.

The natural gas industry, which already holds hundreds of leases on tracts of land throughout the county, is one example of an industry that could be subject to such a law, said county Planner Terry Bliss. Another, he said, is the wind energy industry. One company, Ridgeline Energy of Albany, is already moving forward with plans to erect a wind farm with six towering turbines in the town of Richfield.

McCarty said the law would also give the county new authority in controlling the routes that would be used by companies needing heavy equipment to carry out their activities.

“You don’t want a bunch of gas drilling trucks going through the village of Cooperstown or through the village of Richfield Springs,” he said. “Before this, I don’t think we had any protections like these.”

Bliss said the law, when enacted, would reflect “a lesson learned” from problems in Pennsylvania, where the gas industry was blamed for causing road damage and running out on the bills.

Otsego County, he added, has arranged to have engineers evaluate the condition of county roads to provide a baseline that will help determine the types of damage that may be caused in the future by heavy equipment.

Fifteen towns across the county have agreed to join a countywide road preservation project called Delta, which enables the participants to access engineering assessments of local road baseline conditions.

The chief enforcer of the road preservation law would be county Highway Superintendent Ron Tiderencel. He could issue notices of violation and stop-work orders. Repeat violators could face thousands of dollars in fines, officials said.

A public hearing on the law is scheduled to be held at 6 p.m. Dec. 21 at the county courthouse in Cooperstown. It would take effect 30 days after it is filed with the state Secretary of State.