Copake presses county to make roads, bridges greener

COPAKE–The town may have missed the boat when it came to putting the Brown’s Dam Bridge project on a green path from the get-go, but some are determined not to repeat the error with the future hamlet rehabilitation project.

Paul Krekeler, program manager for the state Department of Transportation’s GreenLITES (Green Leadership In Transportation Environmental Sustainability) program, was invited to speak about the DOT’s environmental sustainability program at the June 9 Town Board meeting.

The state website describes GreenLITES as a voluntary self-certification program that distinguishes transportation projects and operations based on the extent to which they incorporate sustainable choices. It is primarily an internal management program for DOT to measure performance, recognize good practices and identify where improvement is needed. It also provides the department with a way to demonstrate to the public how it is advancing sustainable practices. DOT project designs and operations are evaluated for environmentally-conscious practices and, based on the total credits received, an appropriate certification level is assigned. The highest level goes to designs and operational groups that clearly advance the state of sustainable transportation solutions.

An example of a sustainable feature would be the installation of a roundabout instead of a traffic light, according to Mr. Krekeler.

The impetus for inviting him to the meeting stems from the rehabilitation of County Routes 7 and 7A and the replacement of the bridge over the Roe Jan Kill at Brown’s Dam now underway by the Columbia County Department of Public Works. The project was criticized over a row of 70-foot-tall Norway spruce trees on the property of Susan Winchell-Sweeney that county officials planned to remove, saying they impeded visibility. Then instead of leaving one lane of the bridge open to traffic as planned, the bridge was deemed too unsafe, had to be shut down, forcing traffic to take detours around the construction site.

At the May 12 Town Board meeting, the project again came in for criticism because the county had not sought to have the project certified under the DOT’s GreenLITES program and a bike path/sidewalk would not be part of the project. Residents said they were also upset about the county’s lack of effort to solicit public input on the project and conduct public information meetings about it.

“One information meeting seven years ago is not adequate,” resident Karen DiPeri told the board, adding the town should institute a policy that would guarantee community input on such projects.

Copake Economic Advisory Board Chair Leslie Wood recently wrote to county Board of Supervisor’s Chair Roy Brown (R-Germantown) and other county officials to express her board’s support for GreenLITES certification for the bridge project and a pedestrian/bike path. In a letter read at the May board meeting Mr. Brown assured Ms. Wood that the county understood her concern and for that reason designed “a new replacement bridge which afforded safe travel for not only vehicular traffic but also pedestrians and bicyclist[s].” He said the county incorporated a five-foot-wide paved shoulder in each travel lane to allow adequate separation for pedestrians, bicyclists and motor vehicles to jointly use the bridge. He said sidewalks were not included because no sidewalks currently exist along County Route 7A. A future sidewalk could be cantilevered from the bridge to match a future sidewalk along the road, Mr. Brown wrote.

But residents were still concerned that there wouldn’t be signs designating the shoulder as a biking or walking route.

As for the GreenLITES program, Mr. Brown wrote that the county engineering department had “conceptually” scored the project and that it would rank in the “certified” category, which is the lowest level of certification. He doubts the project would score higher than the lowest level.

Ms. Winchell-Sweeney said in an email this week that the county will not remove any of the spruce trees and only trim them instead. She is pleased by that decision saying that it doesn’t compromise public safety, saves the county “thousands of dollars” and earn points for the GreenLITES program.

Responding to a question from Councilman Daniel Tompkins, Mr. Krekeler said no one from the county had contacted him about the GreenLITES  program. That prompted Councilman Bob Sacks to ask for suggestions about how the town could get the county to “buy into this program.”

The program is voluntary and carries no financial incentives. “It’s just good design. It’s a change of culture, mentality,” said Mr. Krekeler, who said he would be glad to talk to any county official at any time.

Resident Morris Ordover noted that a project with GreenLITES certification would likely be looked upon favorably on a grant application.

Thinking ahead to the county’s planned rehabilitation of the streets in and around the Copake hamlet sometime in the next few years, Mr. Sacks noted that persuading the county to embrace the GreenLITES program has to be a grassroots effort, the public and the town have to get behind it.

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