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Town truck did damage but homeowner on hook

Andrew Brint discovered damage to his front yard

Andrew Brint discovered damage to his front yard in Huntington after the town removed trees damaged by superstorm Sandy. (March 5, 2013) Credit: Newsday / Judy Cartwright

As town crews hauled away downed trees in the wake of superstorm Sandy, the work occasionally left a new round of damage, albeit minor in comparison to the ravages of the storm. Still, it raised a question: Who pays for such repairs?

The experience of one Huntington homeowner provides a cautionary tale.

Andrew Brint told us that as he left for work one morning, he saw a town truck loading up the remains of damaged trees from his street. In the next morning's light, it became clear that a section of ground cover had been ripped from his front yard and a hose that was part of his sprinkler system had been sliced in two.

"I understand these things happen," Brint said. But he anticipated the town would reimburse the cost of repair and replanting.

So he was surprised when the town said the cost was his alone.

"The Town of Huntington has no alternative but to deny your claim," a letter from the town attorney's office informed him, because the damaged goods were in the town's right of way.

We asked Town Hall for the reasoning behind the right-of-way policy and came away with this: Any improvements to property in the right of way are there at the owner's risk, town spokesman A.J. Carter said, citing a section of state highway law.

The right of way typically extends about eight feet onto a property, Carter said, though the depth may vary. It should be indicated on a homeowner's property survey.

"A right of way means the town has the right . . . to do what needs to be done for public purposes," he said. So when work such as removing a tree or repairing a sidewalk is under way, the town is not responsible for damage to improvements the owner has made.

Brint understands the policy -- but not why it applies in this case. His fallen trees had been cut up and placed in the street for pickup, so the need for access to his property wasn't apparent. Presumably a truck or other town equipment backed onto the yard as tree remains were scooped from the street.

Regardless of where the trees were, the right-of-way reasoning still applies, Carter said: "The bottom line is that homeowners place things on the right of way at their own risk."

Which gives us something to consider during planting season.



Who's responsible for keeping road shoulders clear?


With the countdown to spring under way, we can expect to see bicyclists back on local roads. One long-popular ride -- through Mill Neck, Centre Island and Bayville -- has prompted a question: Who's responsible for keeping road shoulders clear?

That route includes scenic West Shore Road, part of which is closed for rebuilding and expected to reopen by the Fourth of July. The cyclists' concern focuses on a section south of the construction -- specifically, the hedgerows on the west side of the road.

Watchdog visited the roadway with cyclists Michael Vitti of Glen Head and John Quirk of Oyster Bay in the fall. As we walked along the harbor side, they pointed out how far the hedges across the road reached as far as the white line that separates the shoulder from the travel lane.

Vitti, who is president of Long Island Greenways and Healthy Trails and Concerned Long Island Mountain Bicyclists, said the hedges have made conditions hazardous for motorists, too, even when bicycles aren't present: In his van, he's had to cross the yellow line to avoid the vegetation. And he pointed to a sculpted pattern in the hedges, presumably created by the side mirrors of passing vehicles.

The inaccessible shoulder forces bicycles to share the travel lane with cars and trucks. On a road hugged by hedges on one side and the harbor on the other, the prospect of a motorist passing a bicyclist can be a challenge. A 2010 state law, prompted by a fatal bicycle accident in Westchester County, requires motorists to pass bicycles "at a safe distance;" though it doesn't define "safe distance," some states have set it at three feet.

Vitti has asked the Village of Mill Neck for assistance in getting the hedges trimmed back, but said a letter from Mayor Peter Quick advised him that the road is Nassau County's responsibility. Quick did not respond to a message we left at village hall or to an email.

Nassau County Public Works spokesman Michael Martino offered this statement: "This situation will be evaluated to ensure that every pedestrian, bicyclist and driver [on West Shore Road] is as safe as possible." Does that mean the county will intervene to get the hedges cut back? Martino preferred to stick with his original statement.

On a recent revisit, the hedges were a leafless winter gray. We'll be watching to see what, if any, steps are taken to keep the roadway clear once spring growth emerges.

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