Monster culvert lurks in Ancram

Supervisor says paint will make cement structure ‘invisible’

ANCRAM—The installation of a new interstate-highway-sized concrete culvert on a quiet country road where once there was an unassuming pipe has neighbors on Pat’s Road hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel.

Adding to the neighbors’ distress over the magnitude of the culvert is that it was erroneously installed a foot-and-a-half too high, making it even more imposing.

But despite all the culvert’s offenses, Town Supervisor Art Bassin contends it can be made “invisible.”


A view of the newly-installed culvert on Pat’s Road from the north side of the road. Photo by B. Docktor

The issue came up during the September 15 Town Board meeting.

Pat’s Road, a stretch running less than half a mile east and west between State Route 82 and Poole Hill Road, was closed to through traffic August 15 through September 12 during the culvert installation, which took about a week longer than expected due to an “elevation” problem.

The culvert carries Pat’s Road over an unnamed tributary of the Roeliff Jansen Kill. Last autumn, the town was awarded a $220,000 grant to fix culverts on the Roe Jan Kill within the Punch Brook and Shekomeko “sub-watersheds.” The state grant came via the Hudson Estuary Watershed Resiliency Project, which assessed thousands of culverts to determine their adequacy to allow floodwaters and aquatic organisms to pass through in the face of climate change.

Acknowledging the displeasure with the culvert situation expressed by William D. Cohan, the culvert’s closest neighbor, Mr. Bassin said a plan had been developed to screen the offending culvert view from Mr. Cohan’s house with plantings and cutting back the curb and wing walls “to lower the profile.”

Mr. Cohan, who has lived on Pat’s Road for 23 years, wrote that the project had wrought destruction upon the once beautiful landscape. “I remain deeply disturbed that this project was allowed to proceed, even as originally designed (forgetting for a moment the contractor’s utter unsupervised botching of the job) where a scalpel was needed, you all used a sledgehammer.” He called the project “a waste of energy and resources” and said the now scarred landscape and stream are now “destined for more scarring as the mistake gets “corrected” and the concrete wings sawed off.

“You bulled ahead, ‘finished’ the job, got the road open—most important I guess for you—and left us holding the bag and hoping that you all can set this right,” Mr. Cohan wrote.

“You are probably right that I can’t win a lawsuit but it will be fun trying, an approach I learned from Donald Trump, who told it to me himself…”

Noting his “considerable anger that [Mr. Bassin] greenlighted this project,” Mr. Cohan concluded that he would meet with Mr. Bassin and others Saturday, September 17.

Andrea Barnet, also a Pat’s Road resident, who attended the meeting, said, “You have to make this right. It is a debacle. Perhaps with amelioration and planting it can look better.”

Mr. Bassin described how measures including painting the concrete a dark gray and planting 14 to 16 dabbled willows that grow five feet/year would “make this disappear.”

The new three-sided concrete culvert has an open bottom, is 12-feet-wide and has about a 6-foot high opening. It is 8-feet high from the stream bed to the top of the road. Prior to the installation, a 5-foot diameter round metal culvert had been in place there since sometime in the 1990s.

Over the next 20 years the town will replace many culverts, Mr. Bassin noted, but “this is probably the hardest one we’ll ever do.”

Addressing the size of the culvert, Mr. Bassin said it was what the state Department of Environmental Conservation “wanted us to do.”

Ms. Barnet said since the stream is only “a trickle” on one side, a case could have been made for “scaling it back.”

Douglas Clark of Ryan Biggs|Clark Davis Engineering and Surveying, PC, in Clifton Park, the project engineer, said at the meeting he “wished we had been consulted” earlier by the contractor.

In a follow-up phone call Mr. Clark said he designed the pre-cast culvert according to DEC guidelines based on the “ordinary high-water level of the stream” with structural consideration for the traffic that passes over it.

When he first arrived at the culvert site, the footings–the base on which the culvert sits–were set. Mr. Clark said he was told at that time by the contractor that he had run into groundwater issues and had to install the footings 8″ higher than specified, something he said would have been easy to compensate for. It wasn’t until the whole culvert was in place that an actual height discrepancy of 18-inches became evident.

Councilman David Boice asked Mr. Clark at the meeting why he had not visited the site sooner.

Mr. Clark said his contract called for him to be “available as needed” and it was not in this project’s budget that he would be paid to be onsite eight hours a day.

In the follow-up phone call, Mr. Clark said the Pat’s Road culvert replacement had been deemed a priority by the DEC because the steep bank from the road to the stream was eroding and there were longitudinal cracks in the road indicating the whole road was shifting toward the sharp drop-off. He said a “substantial structure” was needed to support the embankment. Even if there were no stream there, it could not be left as it was, he said.

Town Highway Superintendent James Miller said by phone this week that the contractor was hired to install the culvert and that the highway crew was on hand daily to dig out trenches or haul materials back and forth depending on what the contractor needed.

Mary Murfitt, an 18-year Pat’s Road resident, told The Columbia Paper by phone this week that the project “felt like eminent domain.” That when the mistake was discovered neighbors had “begged” Mr. Bassin to “stop the project and reassess what should be done.”

Ms. Murfitt said in Mr. Bassin’s “determination to go forward,” he had dismissed the concerns of citizens. She said the proposed culvert fix “is like putting lipstick on a pig,” adding she is “heartbroken” at the “careless disregard” for the “bucolic landscape” and “the bad, shoddy workmanship.”

Mr. Bassin defended his decision to move forward, quoting at the meeting from an email he had written: “I agree the construction process was messy and disruptive. That part is over, and there seems to be no reason to redo the culvert and recreate the disruption.”

In light of the problems encountered at the Pat’s Road site. Mr. Bassin said that a culvert replacement project on Hall Hill Road has been postponed until next summer.

In his report of fire company activities for the month, Councilman Boice, who is also the Ancram Fire Chief, said that firefighters responded to a rollover accident on Poole Hill Road, August 30.

Because of the accident’s proximity to “the Big Dig” as Highway Superintendent Miller called the culvert project, a town Highway Department loader was able to assist with stabilizing the rolled-over vehicle. Chief Boice said he extinguished a fire in the car and got the 81-year-old driver out. “He was okay,” said the chief.

Mr. Miller said that was “the one positive to the culvert project.”

The culvert project contractor, Christopher D. Hart of Town and County Bridge and Rail Inc., in Albany did not respond to an email seeking his side of the story.

To contact Diane Valden email

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