Call it not so much a baptism of fire as an initiation through precipitation. With scant opportunity to benefit from transitional interaction with his predecessor, freshman Southampton Town Highway Superintendent Charles McArdle hit the icy and snowy ground running last week, his first days on the job completed under the threat of a winter snowstorm.
And the snow did fall on Friday, January 7. Accumulation averaged around 6 inches with slightly more east of the Shinnecock Canal, with drifting on farmlands. More worrisome than the actual white stuff was how the department would handle the challenge, given the volume of staff vacancies and illnesses. Still, McArdle said, “The guys did a great job and I was so happy when that sun came out. They know their business, that’s for sure.” He worked the storm some 14 hours.
Sworn in on January 1, then again at a ceremony in Town Hall on January 5, McArdle was among the last local elected officials in November’s vote to receive confirmation. The Suffolk County Board of Elections didn’t confirm his victory over contender Thomas Neely until mid-December. McArdle, who ran on the Republican, Conservative and Working Families party lines, received a total of 7,057 votes, while Neely, running on the Democratic and Clean Water lines, received 7,033 votes. McArdle held a wider 353-vote lead before absentee ballots were tallied. They did a hand count that took three days, he recalled.
After the confirmation, he said, “We went right into the holidays.”
The first threat of snow on January 3, several days before the January 7 storm, “that was my transition. It was perfect for me,” McArdle said.
Having spent as much time as he could touring the department’s six highway barns and looking over the equipment, McArdle was appalled by the neglect he discovered. The roof at the barn in Noyac has been leaking for years, he learned, and there were town pickup trucks so rusted that plows couldn’t be attached to them.
“I need to get the equipment so these guys can do their job efficiently,” he said, listing an inventory of the equipment and sites as his number one priority. “To build morale, they need to have good equipment. They’re in their truck eight hours a day, it has to be something they’re not embarrassed to drive around and gets the job done.”
Running a snowplow in a blizzard is a very dangerous job he put forth. “They need the best equipment to make sure they’re safe,” he said. Supervisor Jay Schneiderman has committed to moving in the right direction with all the equipment, McArdle said.
Noyac needs a completely new barn, the superintendent opined, but for now, the focus is on fixing the roof.
Beyond getting the department’s equipment up to speed, McArdle will be grappling with an inherited legal action related to the ownership of St. Andrews Road. The Shinnecock Hills Golf Club maintains it received the disputed section of the road in a 1930s land swap. Schneiderman agrees the land was exchanged fair and square, but former Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor insisted it truly belongs to the town. Last spring, he filed a verified complaint in State Supreme Court against the golf club. The complaint seeks a declaratory judgment stating that the public has the right to use east St. Andrews Road. Known as “the East Road,” the disputed street is located between Tuckahoe Road and the semicircular continuation of St. Andrews Road north of County Road 39.
McArdle said he had brief conversations with both sides and, at this early stage of his tenure, “I don’t have enough knowledge of it to make a recommendation yet.” He looks forward to learning more and is leaning toward something that’s “good for all sides,” he said.
Also on the horizon for the new official is the pursuit of state funding for two capital projects — the culvert at Trout Pond and the bridge from Jobs Lane to Dune Road in Bridgehampton.