More than 100 Riverhead residents packed Town Hall Tuesday, alarmed by mail they and hundreds of neighbors received in October stating the town highway department would no longer plow snow from their private roads.
Town attorney Robert Kozakiewicz said he learned state law prohibits the highway department from plowing the streets, as it had for decades. The change affects about 900 residents, many who live on dead-end streets in neighborhoods tucked near the shore.
"I'm concerned," said Diane Stuke, who explained she was one of only a few year-round residents of Lockitt Drive in Jamesport. "I've got to get to work."
Mary DiGaetano, who has lived on Breezy Point Road in Wading River since 1991, said she is worried about an ambulance getting to her house if she has an asthma attack during a snowstorm. "When you haven't got your breath, every second counts," she said.
The Riverhead Town Board's proposed solution is to allow some private communities to take down their "no trespassing" signs and make their streets public in exchange for plowing services. Making the roads public will require a vote by the town board, tentatively set for Dec. 30.
Riverhead has designated 41 roads eligible to become public because nonresidents use them regularly and the town has maintained them in some way for at least 10 years.
Town Supervisor Sean Walter assured representatives of homeowners associations that they could keep their beaches and boat ramps private if the roads were deemed public. But Alice Zapf, one of 55 residents of the private Waterview Terrace community in Aquebogue, said it was a "little sad" that residents have to choose between losing plowing services and "changing the complexion of what we perceive to be our community, a private community."
Highway Superintendent George Woodson said Riverhead was the only town on Long Island, and one of the only ones in the state, to plow private streets.
The issue arose last winter after about a half-dozen residents of private communities complained about damage to their roads or properties from plows and some indicated they may sue.
Kozakiewicz said he discovered state law dictates the highway department shouldn't have been spending public funds to clear the roads.
"I'm glad after all these years, finally we got some clarity," Woodson said Tuesday.
"It started off years ago as a courtesy to help people, and then it got to the point that we're doing it all the time."