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More than just a bump in the road

Pristinely paved Locust Lane got torn up despite N. Hempstead law against it.

Workers dig up the recently repaved Locust Lane

Workers dig up the recently repaved Locust Lane in Roslyn Heights for a new National Grid gas line on February 4, 2019. Photo Credit: Newsday/Lane Filler

When the Town of North Hempstead finished repaving and repainting Locust Lane in September, resident Steven Watman, 64, was in pavement paradise. “They did a beautiful job,” he said. “The road, the yellow lines, it was perfect.”

But about two months after Watman and his neighbors in Roslyn Heights got their heavenly hot top, National Grid ripped up the pristine roadway to install a gas line.

There ought to be a law, you say? There was.

At the time, it would have been illegal in North Hempstead to tear up a road that had been repaved in the past 12 months for utility work. And in December, the town restricted such work further, banning digging up repaved roads within three years and newly constructed ones within five.

So why was National Grid allowed to devastate the pavement to lay nearly two miles of gas pipe? Because the company got a town permit to do its digging before the town repaved the road.

Officials with National Grid and North Hempstead agree the mistake is the town’s. The work on Locust Lane is part of the multimillion-dollar Northwest Nassau Natural Gas Reliability Project that had been planned for years and broke ground in 2017.

Residents are furious at the waste and at the seemingly interminable mess and hassle. Access to the neighborhood is often blocked, with workers waving only residents through. Drivers traverse steel road plates and gashed asphalt in the sporty high-end vehicles common in the understated but prosperous neighborhood. The tennis courts of the closed Roslyn Heights Country Club are now the staging area for the project’s machinery, and residents complain that the beeping and banging begin as early as 6:30 a.m.

“I’m really afraid to ride my motorcycle at this point, between the pavement and the steel plates,” said Bill Schlesinger, a physician with a 700cc Yamaha. “But right now, it just feels too dangerous.”

Much of this inconvenience would have occurred even had the work been done in the proper order. It’s the careless waste of public money and resources that is most frustrating in a region where the taxes are brutally high even when governments run efficiently.

Mistakes happen, of course. But the town has to have answers when it’s asked how a mix-up occurred, what it will cost, and how procedures are changing to prevent future screw-ups. On this, North Hempstead is falling short.

After a lot of back-and-forth, Communications Director Carole Trottere wrote, “We have stated multiple times that this issue on Locust Lane was the result of a miscommunication from the Town’s end. We believe it to be a relatively small matter considering our 2018 road repaving program involved more than 100 roads last year and this was the only miscommunication that occurred.”

Trottere would not explain the nature of the “miscommunication,” but people involved said it was a last-minute decision to pave Locust Lane that led to the new paving without a check first of pending permits to dig up the road. To prevent future occurrences, Trottere said the town has added a layer of review of authorization to proceed with work and “eliminated changes to the road resurfacing plan after the initial plan kicks off.” The town would not provide an estimated cost for the repaving, which National Grid has offered to split. 

“Well, I don’t think it’s a relatively small matter at all,” Watman said, shocked that the town would tout how many newly paved roads aren’t being torn up. “That’s a crazy argument, to me!”

 Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.

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