June 28, 2006
Southold Town Supervisor's suggestion last week to hire former Town Planning Director Valerie Scopaz for some guidance on a contentious hot-button traffic study tore the town board in two.
At a Southold Town Board meeting held on June 20, the board was evenly divided over Russell's plan to hire Scopaz for a scoping project that he believes will shape and direct a traffic study that could end up costing the town well over $100,000.
But the town board vetoed Russell's concept with a down-the-middle vote. Although Russell, Councilman Bill Edwards and Justice Louisa Evans were stacked in favor of hiring Scopaz, Councilman Tom Wickham, Dan Ross, and Al Krupski gave the idea the thumbs down, leaving the concept dead in the water.
At an earlier work session, Russell reminded the board that the scope of a town-wide traffic study needed to be determined before any work could begin.
The supervisor contacted Scopaz, of VMS Planning Services, for assistance regarding the traffic study that's set to be conducted by Steven Schneider, of Coram-based Schneider Engineering.
Russell had concerns regarding the ability of the town board members to make suggestions toward modifying the scope. "What keen insight can any one of us claim into traffic knowledge?" he asked. "I'm a liberal arts major."
Scopaz responded to Russell's request with a letter proposing the drafting of a "detailed scope or outline of the necessary components and the content of deliverables (work product) that the town" should expect from the study for planning purposes.
The cost of Scopaz's work was anticipated to be $1500 for 12 hours of work, at the rate of $125/hour, with additional hours billed similarly.
Councilmen Al Krupski and Dan Ross questioned hiring a consultant to monitor the work of another consultant. "We already hired someone," said Krupski.
Russell, who was the only town board member who voted against hiring Schneider for the corridor transportation study, aimed at analyzing the impacts of traffic growth town-wide, said at a cost of $80,000 or more, he wanted to ensure the board was "spending the taxpayers' money wisely."
Wickham insisted time was crucial if traffic data from the upcoming 4th of July weekend was to be tallied. Russell countered that based on previous traffic studies, peak traffic periods in Southold actually occur during pumpkin-picking season.
Ross asked how Scopaz would know what the town board was looking for in a study.
"How does Schneider know?" demanded Russell. The supervisor said he is seeking methodology, something he has not seen thus far from Schneider, who has suggested procedures such as having cars turn on their lights if they're heading for the Cross Sound Ferry. "This whole light's-on thing: Why don't we just hang up a sign and say honk if you're horny? We'll make it a sex study at the same time," said Russell.
Before the vote to hire Schneider, The Independent Traveler Watchman revealed that Schneider worked for Southold Citizens for Safe Roads, an organization that has rallied against Cross Sound Ferry-generated traffic on area roads. Russell said at the time the perceived conflict of interest would make Schneider "ineligible hire for hire by the town." After the board voted to hire Schneider against his lone nay vote, Russell predicted that hiring Schneider would be a "huge mistake."
The supervisor pointed out that there was little difference in cost between the first proposal for a study by Patrick Cleary of Northport-based Cleary Consulting, whose cost of almost $100,000 was deemed too high. Although Schneider's proposal estimated costs at $80,000, he emphasized there could be additional expenses. Russell said that the study "could realistically cost much more when all is said and done."
After a subsequent work session with Schneider held to "shape" the study, the consultant presented a revised proposal.
Wickham, who agreed during the work session that hiring Scopaz on an hourly basis for review of the study would be a compromise, ultimately cast a nay vote.
The board voted and gave Schneider's revised proposal the green light at the town board meeting.
Scopaz did not return calls for comment by press time.